Uganda orphans’ choir touches hearts

Cathy Conley

It is a far cry from the unspeakable tragedies that left these children orphaned and the “mamas” widowed.

But here they were, 18 children singing and dancing with a joy and energy that defied the heartbreak they have lived through.

They are the Watoto Children’s Choir.

They performed a concert at the South Shore Plaza in Braintree, Mass., on Sept. 27, bringing shoppers to a standstill. They performed a concert at the Church of Abundant Life the next day, bringing worshippers to their feet.

Pastor Ron Ray invited the choir of Ugandan orphans to perform in Braintree.

He and his congregation have a special bond with the children’s choir. In August, 2006, Ray and 20 church members spent three weeks in Kampala, Uganda, building two classrooms for the school in the village.

Ray’s video of the trip shows the missionaries in a production line tossing heavy bricks from one to another, mortaring and measuring the walls, sawing wood, and finally, after three weeks of backbreaking work, admiring the two classrooms they had built.

All the while, the children of the village surrounded the workers with smiles and songs every chance they got.

“They were the most joyful, affectionate children you could imagine,” Ray said.

In 1994, missionaries Gary and Marilyn Skinner were horrified by the critical orphan crisis in Uganda. There was unspeakable bloodshed in the country. There were 1.8 million children who had lost either one or both parents to AIDS or war.

The Skinners founded the Watoto Child Care Ministries as an outreach of the Kampala Pentecostal Church. Watoto means children.

“When the Pentecostal Church began helping the orphans, it exploded in its membership,” Ray said.

“The goal of Watoto is to raise the next generation of Ugandan leaders so that each child will become a responsible and productive citizen,” he said.

The orphans live in small homes in Kampala built by the missionaries. There are nine children in each home. A “mama,” as the women are called, lives with the children and brings them up. She makes a lifelong commitment to the orphans in her care. Most of these “mamas” are widows who have lost their own children to the bloodshed in the country.

The original orphans brought up in the village are now of college age.

“These children who had no hope are becoming the lawyers, teachers, doctors, and pastors of the country,” Ray said. “They are the future leaders of Uganda.”

Ray’s visit to Kampala was twofold. In addition to building two schoolrooms, the mission had a medical goal. A doctor and two nurses accompanied the missionaries. They brought medicine and an ultra sound machine. They gave nutrition lessons and first aid kits to the “mamas.”

“The whole village had one thermometer,” Pastor Ron said.

They visited a “baby home” in a neighboring village. Here abandoned infants are cared for -- babies who were dumped in the streets, some even left in garbage cans.

“Our doctor, Chris Mannaseh, broke down while he was holding one of the infants. He was thinking how many of these babies’ lives could be saved with good hygiene and some simple medicines,” Ray said.

The children remain in the “baby home” until they are of kindergarten age, when they go to their own home with their own eight “brothers and sisters” and their own “mama.”

The Watoto ministry opened a “baby home” in Kampala in September 2007.

The Watoto Children’s Choir has been touring internationally spreading a message of hope for Africa’s children since 1994. Each choir has a six-month tour. There is more than one choir traveling internationally at the same time.

It is the goal of Watoto that each orphan gets a chance to tour with the choir.

“Each orphan has a beautiful voice and can be part of the choir at some time,” Ray said.

The children range in age from 8 to 13. The choir presents Watoto vision and mission through its music and dance. The music is an energetic fusion of contemporary gospel and traditional African rhythm.

At the Church of Abundant Life concert, the children introduced themselves individually and told a little about their life.

One little girl told the rapt audience that she lost her mother at 2. Her father died when she was 6. She went to live with her grandmother who died shortly thereafter.

“She was rescued by Watoto and was so grateful,” Ray said.

 At the concert, the orphans shared their goals in life.

“They wanted to be pilots, teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, pastors, and farmers. One even wanted to be a bus driver,” Ray said.

Now through their music and dance, audiences around the world witness “the life-transforming love of God experienced by the children of Watoto,” Ray said.

“Once hopeless, they all now have hope,” he added.

For more information or to learn how to help the Watoto Child Care Ministry, go to