Listening to the Watoto Children’s Choir, performing locally during the first week of March, is more than entertainment—it’s an education in beating the odds.
The choir is part of Watoto Child Care Ministries, an effort to raise thousands of children who have been orphaned by AIDS, war and other calamities into future leaders of Uganda. North Shore families from two local churches host the children and their chaperones, and coming into close contact with a totally different life is a learning experience for all involved.
“They come over with really big dreams,” says Sherry Hanson, the choir’s tour coordinator in Watoto’s U.S. office. “They get a sense of what education is available, and what changes can be made as a result. They take all that home.”
Watoto is currently providing physical, emotional, educational and spiritual care to more than 1,600 orphan children. Since 1994, the Watoto Children’s Choirs have toured internationally as ambassadors for these children, bringing awareness, and a message of hope and dignity, through their soulful fusion of gospel and contemporary African music and dance.
Kathy Deveny of Glencoe has coordinated Glencoe Union Church’s hosting of the choirs for several years now, including welcoming several children and their chaperone into her home. Each child only gets to visit the U.S. once—the idea being to inspire them to work hard so that they can return some day on their own.
Deveny’s family sponsors one child, Edward, year-round, and the experience has been meaningful. Even though they only got to meet him once, for a brief time, the Devenys keep a photo of Edward in their kitchen and write him letters regularly.
“We think about his life and what he has. He doesn’t have a lot, but his letters are upbeat and positive,” Deveny says.
And as much as they might want to, the North Shore families cannot adopt the children, who have positive “mothers” and “fathers” provided for them by the organization, which is not an orphanage. And the Watoto models seems to be working. The program has raised numerous young adults who have attended universities and are doing meaningful work to restore Uganda and move the country forward. “That’s their home,” Hanson says. “They want to change their world from the inside out.”
The Watoto Children’s Choir performs at St. Athanasius Catholic Church in Evanston on March 2, and at Glencoe Union Church on March 8.