A children's choir from Uganda makes a stopover in Bonn for the German leg of their 'Oh What Love' European tour. The church-based choir has been performing for over 10 years.
Huddled in the corridor, the Ugandan children looked excited as they were about to go on stage. Their shrieks and giggles could easily be mistaken for those of the children before whom they would be performing. Dressed in traditional colorful garments called kitenge and trendy shoes, the 18 children were between six to 13 years of age. As soon as the door opened, they sprinted into the hall, all fired up and kicked the concert off with their hugely successful hit song 'Be Exalted' from their new album 'Oh, What Love.' The choir has been performing the album around Europe. The Watoto choir incorporate dancing and singing in their performances. They exude confidence and discipline like professionals. Watoto is a Swahili word meaning children.
The Watoto story
Founded in 1994 by Gary Skinner, a Canadian Pentecostal pastor, the Watoto choir has performed in Africa, Europe, South America and Asia. Their music is a blend of urban contemporary gospel music with African rhythms.
The composition of the choir changes regularly - the choir that performed at the Bonn International School was the 76th. "What makes the choir unique in my opinion is that every year different children perform and different children are given the opportunity to tour at least once with the choir," said Roy Kaddu, one of the team leaders.
The Watoto choir is an offshoot of the Watoto church, a Pentecostal church in Uganda's capital Kampala. The ministry looks after children who've lost either one or both parents through war or HIV/AIDS. ‘Concerts of hope' are performed every year by the choir in churches, community halls and schools to highlight the plight of Africa's orphaned and vulnerable children.
At the Watoto home, the children receive physical medical care including HIV/AIDS treatment, formal or vocational education, counseling and spiritual guidance so they can later make a difference in Uganda. "I like being part of the Watoto choir because it helps you to know God and to share your God with other people" attested 10 year-old Patience.
Lives of the alumni
Halfway into the concert, the choir took a break and Watoto alumni took to the stage to give personal testimonies alongside a plea for sponsorship of 29 euros ($32) to make a difference in a child's life. Sponsorship from well-wishers plays an important role in supporting individual children raised by the church.
"Because of help from different people like Tim and Pat from Canada, I was able to go to school and even graduate from university as a social worker and I am also a leader of the Watoto choir," said team leader Nimlet Kiwumolo.
Other Watoto alumni grow up to be lawyers, doctors, artists, carpenters or blacksmiths.
Changing individual stories
Before a child joins the choir, his or her health condition and age have to be taken into consideration. Consent from a surviving relative is also a requirement. "The kids in the choir have to be old enough to remember the experience from at least 6 years of age and young enough so their development process is not affected by the instabilities that happen on the road. For example, we don't bring teenagers because they're already going through a phase," said Kaddu.
At the end of the concert, the audience was full of praise for the children's performance. "The concert was really wonderful, very inspiring and very moving. There was such an extraordinary contrast between the sadness of their stories and the joy of their singing and the pleasure that it gave to everyone around us. I think we were all cheering, jumping, clapping, dancing and singing along and it was really an amazing experience," said Tanya Talbot, a parent at the school. Josh, a pupil at the Bonn International School, decided to give most of his birthday money to sponsor a child.
After Germany, the group's next destinations were the Channel Islands and England before returning to Uganda.