Watoto Children's Choir: the day hope came to town

THEY are all orphans.

Some of them have lost both parents. Some abandoned as babies.

But watching the squeals of delight and boundless energy as members of the Watoto Children's Choir race up and down a giant yellow slide or rock climb at Nambour, you would never know it.

These are kids with new hope, new purpose and an incredible belief in the good in the world.

Despite living in a country that has been ravaged by war, poverty and HIV, they exude a positive spirit that masks any pain of their past.

Later as they bounce off the platform in colourful dance and sing of their faith, they bring smiles to hundreds gathered under the stars.

Their concert, following a giant community fun day with free rides put on by Nambour's Flametree Baptist Church, is repeated at churches and community venues across Queensland.

The choir, made up of nine boys and nine girls, aged from seven to 13, are in Australia for six months, touring Queensland then NSW, Victoria and South Australia before heading home to Uganda.

Everywhere they go they are met with a similar response.

People wanting to sponsor children from their homeland, to buy items from their market, and to support the work of the Watoto.

Flametree pastor Paul Lanham says the overwhelming message of Watoto is one of hope - and perspective.

"When you compare their lives, we don't have much to complain about,'' he says.

Choir leader Mark Mugerwa said the children were enjoying their time in Australia immensely, especially meeting other children from here.

They have enjoyed going to the ocean, visiting a zoo, and seeing a kangaroo for the first time.

Apart from the touring and the concerts, they have a relaxed schedule which includes school on three days a week, he said.

Watoto Child Care Ministries was founded in 1991 by Canadians Gary and Marilyn Skinner after they  moved with their young family to Kampala, the war-torn capital of Uganda, to plant an English-speaking church.

As well as establishing orphanages for children, the couple have worked to help women who have been victims of human trafficking, abducted from their homes as little girls and distributed amongst rebel soldiers as sex slaves.

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Topics:  africa editors picks hiv poverty uganda watoto children's choir

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