Grand Falls-Windsor —
“Rescue a child, raise a leader, rebuild a nation” — that’s the motto of the Watoto Children’s Choir in Uganda.
Watoto means “the children” in Swahili.
The Watoto Children’s Choir brought its message to Grand Falls-Windsor on Sunday at The Concert of Hope.
“The Watoto Children’s Choirs were put together in 1994 to travel around the world and to be a voice for the millions of children in Africa who were left orphaned by the AIDS crisis,” said choir team leader Stephen Banyikiza.
“Through the choirs, people get to know more about what is happening in Africa, and in Uganda in particular, and see how they can help.”
Banyikiza said the choir represents the Watoto childcare ministries out of Watoto Church in Uganda, which was started by a Canadian couple, Gary and Marilyn Skinner.
He said Watoto is a holistic program that takes care of children in every aspect — physical, spiritual, educational, social and emotional. It builds homes and families for children who are orphaned and vulnerable, he said.
“Watoto rescues them, to raise them up as leaders so that they can help to rebuild the nation of Uganda.”
Watoto has affected the lives of more than 2,000 orphaned and abandoned children, he said.
There are two well-established Watoto children’s villages in Kampala, Uganda, and a third in Gulu, in war-torn northern Uganda.
The villages are built to become self-sustaining, with homes, a school, a medical clinic, community centre and agricultural project.
In 2007, the first Watoto baby home opened its doors in Kampala to provide care and attention to orphaned and abandoned babies under the age of two.
Watoto currently has three babies’ homes — one in downtown Kampala, one in Suubi Village and one in Gulu.
Living Hope is a new Watoto program that has touched the lives of approximately 1,200 women in Kampala and 900 women in Gulu. The target groups are teenage mothers, HIV-positive single women and women who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The goal is to restore their dignity.
“The Watoto Children’s Choirs were put together in 1994 to travel around the world and to be a voice for the millions of children in Africa who were left orphaned by the AIDS crisis." - Stephen Banyikiza
Watoto is funded by collections during concerts like the one being held in Grand Falls-Windsor, and by other donations and sponsorships.
“There are opportunities for sponsorship for $35,” Banyikiza said.
“(Sponsors) can make a big difference in the life of a child or the mothers that we have in the program.”
There is no admission to the Concert of Hope.
“We have a free will offering that people can give and also we do have merchandise that people can purchase and that’s what helps us to cover the cost of touring,” Banyikiza said.
Choir tours are funded by the sale of merchandise, including CDs, DVDs, T-shirts, African jewelry and crafts made by women in the Living Hope Program.
Banyikiza said the choirs have done a lot of touring in Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Africa, Israel and Brazil.
“This is choir No. 46,” he said. “We started a tour on Jan. 12 in Vancouver and we go as far east as St. John’s. We have children between the ages of eight and 13. We do lots of concerts of hope in different churches and anywhere people would have us.”
Although the choir has performed in Grand Falls-Windsor previously, these particular children have not.
“The children are only given one chance to tour on the choir,” Banyikiza said.
“When they go back home, other children train and tour and get to travel as well.
“Everyone is very excited. It’s my first time in Canada, so it’s very exciting to be touring all across. We are meeting very many nice people, and people blessing us in very many ways. We’re glad.”
“We know that you do not have to be an African orphan to feel lonely, rejected. … You can be in Canada and feel the same way. So they actually will be ready to pray for the people as well to share that hope in that way.”
For more information, visit website watoto.com or call 1-888-9-WATOTO.