All you need is love

All you need is love

A choir of Ugandan orphans is helping other children in the impoverished nation

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Watoto's children's church choir perform at Pui Ching Middle School.
Watoto's children's church choir perform at Pui Ching Middle School.
Photo: Edward Wong/SCMP
The sweet sound of gospel music, and the beat of rich African rhythms, filled the air around Pui Ching Middle School, in Ho Man Tin, last Tuesday.

It was the Watoto children's choir, from Uganda, kicking off their Asian tour. The group is on a mission to raise funds for the Watoto children's village, which is home to needy youngsters in the war-torn country.

Ten-year-old Bosco Wamwena tells of living with his stepmother who worked him like a slave and often locked him in a darkened room by himself.

His half-siblings enjoyed proper meals, but Bosco was given only mangoes. He had to herd the family's goats, do the cooking and wash dishes.

Then, one day, driven by his overwhelming hunger, he stole some of his stepmother's money to buy himself something to eat. When she found out, she was furious. "She beat me while my hands were tied up, and sent me to sleep with the animals," Bosco sobs.

Yet his story changed for the better six years ago after some neighbours alerted Watoto. "Now I have everything I need," Bosco says. "I have a good mother who gives me love and helps me with my homework."

"Every child in Watoto has been through a traumatic situation," choir leader Bryan Katongole says. Uganda has been ravaged by civil war, HIV/Aids and poverty. Children are abandoned to fend for themselves, or abused like Bosco.

Since 1994, the Kampala-based church of Watoto - the Swahili word for "the children" - has offered love, support and hope to these youngsters. It gives 2,500 children a place to call home and an all-important education.

But it has bigger plans. It knows it cannot tackle the problem alone.

With a motto of "rescue, raise, rebuild", Watoto hopes to raise enough money on the tour to care for 10,000 children by 2023. It is also trying to help women and encourage more missionaries to establish similar children's villages.

Unicef statistics show there were 2.7 million orphans in Uganda in 2009. Watoto has taken in many of them, but now it is seeing a worrying new trend. Babies are being abandoned, often on rubbish pits, by young mothers unable to cope.

Under Watoto's guidance, rescued children such as Bosco have been able to start new, carefree lives - growing up in a family with a loving "mother" and attending school.

By the time Bosco graduates from university and goes out to work, Katongole hopes he will be able to serve his nation, too.

He could follow the example of Allan Katushabe, 27, who joined Watoto after his mum died in 1994.

She was in her 20s, a single mother and a student when she was taken ill.

A Watoto worker inspired Katushabe to become a social worker. Now he trains the choir and is a "father" to three members. "I am who I am because of Watoto," he says.

"I felt it important to do exactly what someone else did for me and be a source of inspiration to young children. When I share my story, they know they can be much better than they thought they were."

The choir leaves on March 14 to tour Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan.

For details of Watoto concerts, go to www.watoto.asia

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