If you’re struggling to find joy this Christmas, do yourself a favour and check out a brand-new Christmas album all the way from Uganda by the internationally renowned Watoto Children’s Choir. You can find it right here.
The Watoto Children’s Choir is a group of choirs based at Watoto Church in Kampala and made up of children who have lost one or both parents, often as a result of AIDS.
“Watoto” means “children” Swahili. Watoto church was founded by Canadian missionaries in 1984. With a congregation of about 27,000, it supports women and children through sponsorship programs. Its children’s choirs, launched in 1994, tour internationally to raise money and awareness for the Watoto orphanages as well as share the joy of the gospel.
“This Christmas album is a celebration of music, of the Watoto children and their God-inspired talent and resilience.” – Tim Sisarich
Over the decades, they’ve performed for the Queen at Buckingham Palace, the US President at the White House, and toured Australia, performing for former prime minister John Howard in Canberra.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the children’s choir from touring over the past couple of years, it hasn’t dampened their creative spirits or their love of singing.
“While the world has been locked down, dedicated Australians have ensured that thousands of Africa’s most vulnerable children have been provided with safe homes, and everything they need to know they’re loved and cared for during this difficult time,” says Watoto Australia and New Zealand Country Director Tim Sisarich.
Though new to his role with Watoto, Tim is well known in Christian media circles for his career as a radio host. Tim has a deep passion and sensitivity for those who struggle to help themselves. He grew up in Fiji and has dedicated himself to serving the vulnerable in Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan and Mexico, as well as working in multiple children’s ministry roles in his native New Zealand.
“This Christmas album is a celebration of music, of the Watoto children and their God-inspired talent and resilience,” says Tim.
“The past two years have been incredibly challenging for the children and for the whole world. So that makes it even more important to celebrate Christmas together. Despite a pandemic and the distance between us, we can be united in our love for Jesus and the celebration of his birth.”
Tim responded to an article in The Guardian from May 2020, which reported on an investigation into the activities of Watoto church for allegedly breaching child labour laws, taking the children out of the country without permission and putting them at risk by not cancelling the tour as coronavirus cases escalated and countries closed their borders.
“No one got Covid; what happened was that the choir, which travels regularly around the world, was supposed to come to New Zealand and Australia and while they were in New Zealand the Ugandan government basically gave them 24 hours to get back into the country before they closed the borders.
“It takes about 25 hours to fly there so there was no way in the world they were going to get back into the country, so that wasn’t bad management by Watoto – it was just bad luck.”
Tim said a couple of New Zealand churches created spaces for the children to set up home so they were able to continue their schooling and stay together for six or seven months until they were able to return to Uganda and their families.
“It’s been set up to help them thrive more rather than pull them back.” – Tim Sisarich
He said there are usually three or four choirs travelling at any one time while three or four would be in training for the following year.
“It usually takes about two years of training for the kids before they go overseas, and usually, they only get one tour as part of the choir,” he explains.
“When pastor Gary [Skinner] set up Watoto, the purpose of the choir was to help the kids see the world and help them realise there are lots of opportunities out there if they put in the effort. That was the heart around what started the choir in the first place. It wasn’t about child labour and utilising them in that way.”
He added that the kids travel with adults who are teachers so they stay engaged in schoolwork while they are away.
“It’s been set up to help them thrive more rather than pull them back. So it’s a privilege to be part of the choir but then when they do travel they stay engaged in classroom set-ups.
“They get the opportunity to perform, which they love doing, they get the opportunity to see the world and see these opportunities and they also get the opportunity to invest back into by raising sponsorship for the Watoto villages which provide homes, families and holistic care to over 3,000 children.”