The Watoto Children’s Choir comes to Singapore on the first leg of their first Asian tour.
|CN PHOTO: Michael Chan
John F. Kennedy once said that “children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”
Given that, the story in East sub-Saharan Africa is particularly bleak. Uganda, with its population of over 26 million, is a country that has, for decades, endured bloody mayhem due to civil unrest and inter-tribal conflict. Furthermore, the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic that started in the 1980s, has decimated the population, leaving behind at least two million orphans without proper care. The staggering statistics represent 7.6 percent of Ugandan society, making it the country with the highest number of orphans in the world.
Watoto means “children” in Swahili. Hope for some of these parentless watoto is delivered in the form of Watoto Child Care Ministries from Uganda. Established as a compassionate response to the urgent and desperate plight of Ugandan orphans, Watoto aims to provide spiritual, physical, educational and emotional care for every child that has lost one or both parents to abandonment, war or HIV/AIDS. Since 1994, Watoto Children’s Choirs have toured internationally as ambassadors for Watoto Child Care Ministries’ life-saving and transforming work, thereby allowing its audience an opportunity to participate in the restoration of hope and dignity to the children.
Come Aug. 6, the Watoto Children’s Choir of 20 children and four adults will join hands with Singaporean music celebrity, Stefanie Sun, for a showcase at the Esplanade Concert Hall. This Concert of Hope, which spans over two hours, will also mark the opening act of the Watoto Children’s Choir’s first Asia Tour. This tour will visit other destinations such as Hong Kong and Taiwan. The Choir was brought to Singapore by World Vision, a charity organization that seeks to improve the lives of children worldwide through their child sponsorship programs.
Brian Katongole, 27, the team leader of the performing choir, Choir 43, shares that concertgoers can expect an energetic and colorful performance as the children dance and sing “contemporary gospels fused with African rhythms” in traditional tribal costumes.
The concert primarily aims to convey a message of hope, hence the name “Concert of Hope.” On a subtler level however, as suggested by Mindy Chee, external relations manager of World Vision Singapore, the performance also aims to bring awareness of the Ugandan children’s plight and “fight the stigma that comes with losing parents to HIV/AIDS.”
To prepare for their first Asia Tour, the Ugandan choir rehearsed five days every week for five months, aside from other extra-curricular activities that would help to prepare them for the six-month tour ahead. Katongole acknowledged that they had “vigorous training” and “the whole team worked very closely together” throughout. Through that experience, they have become “like family.”
Katongole, who is single and has traveled three times with various Watoto choirs, shared that he has learned over these trips what it means to be a parent. More importantly, it has helped him “realize through the children singing about hope, that there is not just hope for the children but hope for him too.”
For the bright-eyed and beautiful watoto of Choir 43 however, this happens to be the first time they have traveled abroad. When quizzed about what they enjoy most about Singapore, the well mannered and alluring 10-year-old girl, Khasife, remarked that she liked “cars and trains,” and the “beds [they] sleep in.” Ronald, a 10-year-old choir mate, commented that performing was his favorite part of being in the choir and expressed excitement for his first travel experience. For the children, coming to Singapore is the first time that they have seen escalators, and they marvelled at the city life here.
Although lovely and well-behaved, the children were shy and seemed hesitant to share their thoughts. When they sing, though, their testimony can be seen in their hopeful eyes, joyful smiles and melodious angelic voices. The message of hope is not simply encapsulated in the lyrics they sing but in the lives of the children themselves and how music has united them and given them a purpose in life. While shy during the interview, they were happy and energetic after giving an impromptu performance.
Jonas Kor, 43, World Vision’s marketing communication director, reveals, regardless of predicament, these children have “come out strong through Christ, they are able to share with audiences out there with conviction that there is a hope, that there is a future for anyone.”
The Watoto Children’s Choir performs at the Esplanade Concert Hall on August 6. Tickets are S$40, S$60, S$80 and S$100 through Sistic. For more information, visit www.worldvision.org.sg/watoto.