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Watoto children sing and dance out the pain

| Wednesday, May 22, 2013, 8:54 p.m.
Watoto Children's Choir
The Watoto Children’s Choir perform African dance and singing

Shraf Sempijja, a boy from Uganda, looks back on his life before the Watoto organization rescued him a few years ago.

“I didn't have enough food ... I didn't have shoes,” says Shraf, 12. “My mother was sick and died.

“Now, I have everything I need,” he says. “I go to school every day, and eat every day.”

Shraf and his 21 comrades ages 7 to 13 in the Watoto Children's Choir will be performing African dance and singing, and telling their stories of life transformation, at three Pittsburgh-area church concerts this weekend. Orphaned Ugandan children — who have lost one or both parents to HIV, war, abandonment or poverty — form the choir, which tours through the United States, Australia, Europe, Asia and South America.

Watoto Child Care Ministries — a Christian charity with the motto of “Rescue, Raise, Rebuild” — adopts orphaned children, and places them into Watoto Children's Villages with eight children per house. There, the children receive the care and nurturing they need to grow up successfully and become productive citizens, says Brian Katongole, group leader for the choir.

“Our aim is ... to raise up orphaned children in a loving environment in a family setting,” Katongole says.

“For the choir, they travel around the world to share the music,” he says. “Children share testimonies about how their lives have changed through the love of God.

“Their testimonies are all similar,” Katongole says. “They share their stories how their life was before they were rescued by Watoto, and how their life is now in Watoto.”

The Watoto choir, formed in 1994, offers an energetic fusion of contemporary gospel and traditional African rhythm, and the choir members act as ambassadors for million of African children who have been orphaned. The music gives the children a therapeutic opportunity to express themselves and explore creativity, Katongole says.

“In Africa, we love singing and dancing — it's part of our culture,” he says. “We know that music has the power and influence to communicate the message. ... We are showing our celebration, and the children are sharing their stories of transformation.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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