Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By C.M. Swanson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

'Watoto' means love

Children's choir performs


The Watoto Children's Choir from Africa presents a free concert at the Moose Lake High School auditorium May 22.

If you missed the Watoto Children's Choir concert May 22 at the Moose Lake High School, you missed an opportunity that may well have impacted the way you live the rest of your life.

Joy, energy, hope, respect, love, prayers and music to impact the soul radiated from the stage of the auditorium as the African children and their caretakers shared their precious time and impressive talents with local residents.

It's not often that an American has the opportunity for a Ugandan to pray for them. At Thursday's gathering, it was the order of the evening.

Yes, people from Africa, a war-torn country where 11 million children die each year before their fifth birthday (World Hunger Facts); where 14 million children have been orphaned by the HIV/AIDs epidemic (UNAIDS Global Facts Figures 2009); where more than 20,000 children have been abducted and forced to serve as child soldiers in Uganda (UNICEF, 2008) ... the Watoto Children's Choir comes from that Africa ... and they sang with joy.

"I would say there is only one reason," said team leader Phillip Mugerwa in an interview after the concert, "the first and the last reason always, is God. The number one reason as to why the choir travels is to share the love of Jesus."

It takes pure humility for someone who has seen the ravages of war and its affect on those whom they love, to reach out to an audience of well fed, comfortably housed people sitting in cushioned seats, and sincerely pray for their needs.

"Without God we are nothing," said Mugerwa. "Without God we can't do anything. If I can't have God in my heart, then I won't be able to help somebody else who's going through a situation that they can't handle."

During the fast paced, excellently choreographed, high energy dance performances and faith based songs, children from 4 years old to teenagers offered brief testimonies of how they came to Watoto.

Within most stories, which were less than a minute in the telling, common phrases were, "When my mother and father died," ... "When I was a child," ... "There was no place for me to go," ... "There wasn't any food," ...

How, then, could those young people break out into uplifting song and dance, eyes emanating the joy in their hearts, smiles reflecting hope?

"It is moments like this that we look to Jesus for our comfort and hope," said a 6-year-old girl as she recalled the day her mother died.

"You see these children," said Mugerwa when asked how he could bear witnessing the suffering the children encounter. "They've gone through a lot. They have issues in their lives.

"Sometimes it takes time for them to be able to come out and tell you their real story. They may not go into the depth here, but they will tell you what really happened. Then, at a certain moment, they will tell you what really hurts in their story, but that takes time.

"We pray for these children continuously. I pray continuously. I ask God for guidance. I ask God to help me to be able to do the work that I do. If I did it with my own energy, I would totally fail. It is really Jesus who is guiding me all the way."

Mugerwa said it takes about five months to prepare a Watoto Choir (there are 65 choirs) for a six-month tour in another country. Children not only rehearse dance and songs, they also learn about the country to which they are traveling, all the while continuing their home-schooling from the Watoto village homes in which they live.

Over a thousand children have traveled and performed through Watoto.

Concerts are set up through local churches that also arrange host families with whom choir members and their caretakers stay.

"If we can share the hospitality of someone's home, but also share the love of Jesus with them where they are relaxed and feel no pressure," said Mugerwa, "we love to do that."

Nowadays it is all but impossible to think of donating to a cause without also being aware of how many scams are pushed on unsuspecting givers. Watoto has a transparency in its policy that is comforting.

"If you go to our website, which is and you just look it up, you will see our every expenditure," said Mugerwa. "We always have a release of our breakdown of every single shilling. Every single dollar we receive is right there.

"We always tell people, if they feel the need to find out more, to find out that what we talk about is actually true, they can visit us at Watoto back at home.

"We are open. We are not afraid of people coming to visit us because what you see here is what is really happening. We are confident in the villages we have. We freely invite people in, just to come and experience Watoto for themselves so they know that what we are doing is viable."

Watoto's focus is to rescue, raise and rebuild.

"One of African's biggest challenges is leadership," said Mugerwa. "We believe that if we can raise a new generation of leaders in Uganda, that is going to make a huge difference because they can have an impact in their communities. They can have an impact in their country and on the continent of Africa."

The word Watoto means love. The choir concert held in Moose Lake was a living example of that very ideal. If you missed the Moose Lake event, go to to see concert locations through June.


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