Youthful Messages of Hope out of Tragedy

By: Alice Barr
By: Alice Barr

A group of children piles off a bus in Oregon. But they're not on your typical school field trip and the smiles on their faces cover tragic histories.
"When I was six years old, my mother died. My dad died when I was seven," says 10-year old Henry Jumba.
Jumba's parents died of AIDS. That's just one of the hardships and dangers these Ugandan children faced growing up.
"Poverty, sickness and war are very serious problems," Jumba adds.
But despite the orphans' sad pasts, they now spend their days spreading a message of hope all over the world. They're just beginning a trip of the Midwest, starting here in Oregon.
"The premise of the choir is to raise awareness about what's going on in Uganda and also to raise support for our ministry," says Team Leader Eugene Stutzman.
The ministry, called Watoto, includes providing homes, schools and medical clinics for more than 1,700 Ugandan orphans.
"Each home has eight children and a full-time foster mom. We feel that's the best way to raise children is in a family," says Stutzman.
The group's moto is "Raising future leaders."
One child says, "When I grow up I want to be a teacher."
Watoto leaders say exposing the children to other cultures will help them improve their own country in the future.
Don Champion, director of Watoto in the U.S., says, "The children are basically exposed to our culture. Not to Americanize them or Westernize their point of view but to expose them to different things that they'll take back to Uganda and use as they become the leaders."
And what they leave behind is inspiration for a better life for anyone who sees them perform.
"The message of hope is just contagious," says Champion.
Hope for a better world, built with young hands and voices.
The choir is performing at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Oregon Monday night at 7:00. They will be performing at churches and schools in the Stateline through the end of the month. Check out their tour schedule at their website, www.watoto.com.
There are plenty of volunteer oportunitues with Watoto. The organization is funded mostly by people sponsoring the children, to pay for food, clothing and education. You can also volunteer to go to Uganda and build a home. The group is starting a new task of taking in children who are forced to become child soldiers in the country's ongoing war. Again head to www.watoto.com for more information or to learn how to get involved.


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