Penticton Western News

Sounds of a new generation

The Watoto Children’S Choir will be performing a free concert on Friday at the Bethel Church at 7 p.m. displaying traditional dance and original songs from Uganda.The Watoto Children’S Choir will be performing a free concert on Friday at the Bethel Church at 7 p.m. displaying traditional dance and original songs from Uganda. - Courtesy of Watoto Children’s choir
The Watoto Children’S Choir will be performing a free concert on Friday at the Bethel Church at 7 p.m. displaying traditional dance and original songs from Uganda.The Watoto Children’S Choir will be performing a free concert on Friday at the Bethel Church at 7 p.m. displaying traditional dance and original songs from Uganda.
— image credit: Courtesy of Watoto Children’s choir

The sound of music and power of dance is bringing a new generation of children from Africa to Canada.

The Watoto Choir consists of children who have come from war-torn families, broken homes due to AIDS and poverty, but are standing together to become future leaders. These acting ambassadors are visiting Penticton from the Watoto Children’s Villages in Uganda to share their life-transforming stories through original, vibrant African music and dance.

“Many of these children have lost one or both of their parents,” said Justine Ludwig, a public relations representative for the Watoto choir while they are in B.C. “These children don’t have sadness. They are truly just joyful kids who have had unfortunate circumstances in their lives. Now with Watoto, and being rescued to the villages, they have been given the opportunity to go forward, have an education, have a family and have a future. That is what you see in these children. They have so much promise in them and want to do good for their country, that really is shining out of their smiles.”

The free concert, Beautiful Africa: A New Generation, is being held at the Bethel Church (945 Main St.) on Friday at 7 p.m. and features traditional songs and dance mixed in with the stories of the children and their Ugandan chaperones.

“It is fully family friendly and anyone can come and sing and dance with them. There is an opportunity for the crowd to try dancing and singing. It is always entertaining for the kids in the choir to hear us dancing and singing songs in their language and practicing their cultural dance moves,” said Ludwig. “I do always recommend bringing a tissue because it is heartwarming.”

The 22 member children’s choir has kicked off their cross-Canada tour as  ambassadors for the millions of children in Africa who were left orphaned. Watoto, a holistic care program in Northern Uganda, impacts the lives of more than 2,500 children by rescuing the vulnerable, raising them to be leaders so they can rebuild their nation. There are three established villages in Uganda including one in war-torn Gulu. The goal is to have 10,000 children being cared for in the villages by 2023.

“The concert really brings you back to reality to see we have so much here and are so fortunate,” said Ludwig adding for $35 a month sponsors can help a child, baby or house mother.

Since 1994, 51 choirs have toured internationally presenting Watoto’s vision through music and dance. This has given over 960 Watoto children the chance to tour the world, including performances for the Queen of England and at the House of Commons for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The choir has been touring B.C. this past month and although part of their training before they came to Canada was to learn about the country there is culture shock. That includes seeing snow for the first time, swimming in a pool and riding a ferry to Vancouver Island. But, being away from their homes for so long — it’s a six-month tour — is a way for the children to provide insight into their culture.

“I enjoy telling the people stories about Uganda and my home,” said Sandra Akello, one of the choir members.

The concert is free and open to the public. The choir will be selling merchandise including DVDs, African jewelry and craft items made by women in the Living Hope program that helps HIV-positive single women, returnees from abduction and teenage mothers.

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