African children’s choir coming to town


The Watoto Children’s Choir from Uganda, Africa, will perform next week at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church. (Special to the Guardian)

Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 2:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 2:01 p.m.

The Watoto Children's Choir from Uganda in East Africa will bring their unique brand of music and storytelling to Gainesville with the hopes of leaving those who attend their show with a new sense of thankfulness.

Facts

CHOIR CONCERT

What: The Watoto Children’s Choir from Uganda will be in concert.
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 21.
Where: Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church, 630 NW 2nd St.
Cost: Free.
Phone: Call 352-372-4872.

The choir, comprised of orphans between the ages of 8 to 13 who have suffered from war, HIV/AIDS and poverty, will perform at a free concert at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church at 630 NW 2nd St. The performance will be part of a tour called "Beautiful Africa: A New Generation," which began in the fall 2012.

Gideon Kizito, leader of the choir, said the performances are meant to not only bring awareness to the plight of orphans in Uganda and other parts of Africa, but also to make people more aware of their own blessings.

"We expect people to leave with a better sense of how blessed they are," said Kizito, in a telephone interview from Augusta, Ga. "We want people to realize how thankful they should be for what they have."

Kizito said "watoto" means "children" in Swahili, a popular language in East Africa. The choir has performed in England for Queen Elizabeth and at the White House in 2003 for former President George W. Bush.

The Rev. Geraldine McClellan, pastor of Mount Pleasant, said she requested the choir perform at her church after learning the choir was looking for churches to host them. She said Mount Pleasant has made arrangements to house choir members and their leaders and will feed them dinner on Feb. 21 and provide them with bagged lunches when they leave on Feb. 22.

McClellan, who saw the choir perform several years ago in Orlando, said she can relate to their stories because she visited Angola in 2004, another African country, after a civil war had torn that country apart. She said she saw firsthand how the children there still found joy despite their horrible living conditions. She also said it is important for people in the U.S. who complain about what they don't have to hear the stories children in the choir have to tell.

"With all they have been through, they can still sing and dance their hearts out with smiles on their faces," McClellan said.

Kizito, who said the choir was enroute to Hilton Head, S.C., after leaving Augusta, said there are 22 children in the choir. He described the choir's style as Afro-Western upbeat contemporary music.

He said their performances include dance, music and "real-life testimonials" from the children, who will be dressed in bright, colorful costumes.

He said there are several choirs that tour around the world performing and raising funds for Watoto Child Care Ministries, which was founded in 1994 by Gary and Marilyn Skinner of Canada.

Kizito said the children train five to six months out of the year before they go on tour and they are home-schooled every morning while they are touring. He also said each child in the ministry gets a chance to tour with the choir. Fifty-six choirs have traveled worldwide since the ministry was founded.

Jeanine Bedell, communications director for the Watoto U.S. office based in Tampa, said there are 3,000 children currently in the care of the ministry at its headquarters in Kampala, Uganda. Bedell said touring with the choir gives the children a chance to tell their stories and raise awareness about the orphaned children in Africa who have yet to be rescued.

"The children understand the gravity of the need in the country they're from, so it's an opportunity for them to bring life to that, but they also enjoy performing and being able to share the joy and hope they have found," Bedell said.

She said some children who were a part of the ministry in the past have gone on to earn college degrees, while others have become productive citizens. She also said the ministry will be moving into Juba, the capital of the African nation Sudan, later this year. She said Sudan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world.

She also said future plans for the ministry include taking the Watoto model to other parts of Africa.

"Our goal is to see all of the rescued orphans empowered and able to rebuild their nation," Bedell said. "We don't end our support at a certain age. We support them until they become self-empowered and are able to take the next step in their lives."

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