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Watoto Children tell story through emotional song, dance

In 2010, I went to see the Watoto Children's Choir perform at Victorious Life Church in Wesley Chapel. I went on assignment, notebook and pen in hand, not sure what to expect.

Halfway through the show, I found myself weeping.

The performers, African children ranging in age from 7 to 14 who have been orphaned by war and disease, told their story through dance. They poured raw emotion into each song. As they belted out Chris Tomlin's lyric "and if our God is for us, then who can stand against," I cried tears of sorrow and joy.

Since 1994, Watoto Children's Choirs have toured the world, offering a message of endurance, faith, hope and encouragement. Choir members act as the voice of Watoto Child Care Ministries, an organization offering care and refuge to children in Uganda. Marilyn and Gary Skinner founded the ministry, which maintains its United States headquarters in Lutz. Watoto's services include medical care, academic enrichment, housing and spiritual guidance.

Throughout January, the current Watoto Children's Choir will appear at various churches across the bay area. This year's performance, "Beautiful Africa: A New Generation," features song and dance relevant to the plight of African children today. All shows are free and open to the public.

"This show is for us to share our stories, to show how beautiful Africa is and share what God has done for us through Watoto," choir director Edwin Smith Kigoci said.

Kigoci, 29, is the first graduate of Watoto Children's School to lead the choir. He came to live at Watoto following the death of both his parents in 1995. In 1998, he joined the choir as a performer.

"After my parents passed, Watoto helped me to dream again," Kigoci said. "Traveling with the choir showed me that the world is my backyard and that I can be a leader in anything I choose to do."

Naturally he is eager for people to see the choir, which features 18 youth and 10 adult performers.

"It's for anyone, for kids and adults," he said. "It's very spiritual and very beautiful."

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