Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN – Want to see a “Broadway-type” performance this weekend that raises awareness of the orphaned and abandoned in Africa? And you don’t even have to leave the state.
A group of 22 African children and their adult leaders will be in Rhode Island sharing that message this weekend and they will be in North Kingstown on Sunday evening.
One of several Watoto Children’s Choirs will use song and dance to present their message of advocacy for an estimated 50 million orphans in Africa, says Jeanine Bedell, Watoto’s communications director in the U.S.
Bedell said all of the children in the choir touring the U.S., who range in age from 6-years old to 12-years old, are from Watoto children’s villages in Uganda.
“Watoto,” she said, “means ‘the children’ in Swahili.”
Watoto is “a childcare ministry born out of a church,” Bedell said, by founders Gary and Marilyn Skinner, a couple from Canada.
In 1994, when Watoto was founded, she explained, “there were not a lot of people addressing the orphan problem in Uganda [and Africa].”
Not an orphanage in the traditional sense, their website says, Watoto builds “real homes” for children who have lost their families due to “HIV/AIDS, war, poverty and disease.”
Bedell described a Watoto children’s village as having a school, a medical clinic, a community center, an agricultural project and “several homes modeled to look like a traditional African village.”
They do an “extensive interview process and training” to hire widows to be “house moms.”
“We take children in who have no other parents and who want that support and we provide them a home with one of those house moms,” Bedell said.
Their program has “medical, academic, counseling and spiritual care” and the overall goal is to “rescue, raise, rebuild”—rescue children from their situation, raise them as leaders and then put them in a position to rebuild their own nations.
“We support them all the way,” Bedell said, adding that the children go to university or vocational school after leaving the village.
Right now, are three Watoto children’s villages in Uganda and they are planning another one soon in Juba, the capital of Sudan.
They also have Baby Watoto, she said, a program for those children 2-years-old and under who are often abandoned.
Another program, Living Hope, is focused on supporting women who are HIV positive, widowed or abandoned.
The Watoto Children’s Choirs have traveled internationally and the tour passing through Rhode Island will travel the east coast from now until March where they will finish in Miami. From there, they will travel to Brazil and tour for another month.
There are several choirs that go out and next year a choir will tour the “central east coast,” Bedell said.
Each year features a different group of children.
“Each child is given the opportunity to be a part of one choir,” Bedell said.
They hold tryouts, but the children are given a lot of voice training, she said, so they look to see if they are in “good academic standing, in good health, have good behavior” and that it is “for their best interest.”
“Education is a core value for us,” Bedell said, explaining that there is time set aside each day to do homework while the children are on tour.
“We have individuals in Uganda who are talented in choreography, talented in music,” Bedell said, adding that there are some original songs and some contemporary gospel songs “that you might recognize.”
The concert is in English, but there is some African language incorporated.
At the concerts, which are free to the public, there will be an opportunity to sponsor a Watoto child or give a “love offering,” to support Watoto. Bedell said they are currently caring for over 2,500 abandoned or orphaned children and their goal is to rescue 10,000 children by 2023.
Sponsorship, where donors are able to develop a relationship through letter writing with a child, is $35 a month.
Learn more about Watoto at www.watoto.com .