NEW PORT RICHEY — Energy was the one word the leadership of the First Baptist Church of New Port Richey used to describe the Watoto Children’s Choir, which performed two shows there Wednesday.
It was the best word.
The touring choir of orphans from the East African nation of Uganda, performed several inspirational songs for a large crowd at the church Wednesday evening, after a morning performance at the neighboring First Christian Academy school.
The shows were roller-coaster rides of emotion, telling the stories of hardship and loss experienced by African women and children, but also of hope thanks to the Watoto School. Over the last 25 years, the school in Kampala, the capitol city of Uganda, has rescued some 5,000 orphan children, providing them food, shelter, education and most important, a family, said Edwinsmith Kigozi, director of Choir No. 96.
The choirs, which tour just once for six months, are numbered to show how many choir groups have been assembled over the years. There are few places in the world the choirs have not performed, said Kigozi.
Born in Uganda, Kigozi himself was an orphan of 11 when he came to the Watoto School. His dream was to become a musician and music producer, both of which he’s achieved. In addition to leading choirs, he produces albums and recordings of Watoto choir groups, which are sold to raise money for Watoto.
The African school and its ministry saved him and thousands of others who otherwise would have had little hope, he said after the children finished there evening performance. Since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1962, Uganda has suffered from a series of wars, coups and other upheavals, including the brutal reign, from 1971 to 1979, of Idi Amin Dada, a Uganda army officer who seized power in a coup.
“There were so many children without parents; so many wars,” he recalled of his childhood. “There were so many of us.”
Elizabeth N is one of the young members of choir No. 96. As her six months with the group is about to end, she said she’s enjoyed being on stage.
“It is very fun,” she said of touring and performing. “I like it a lot.”
Moses L puts everything into his performances and has been enjoying his tour of the U.S. In fact, he’s more than a little enamored with America.
“I want to stay here,” he said. “I like it here.”
Videos shown at various points during the performance told the story of African mothers struggling to raise their children, and children with no mother or father. Some of the children in the choir told their personal stories on stage. At times, it was difficult to hold back tears, said Mindy Jackson, who brought her family to the evening performance.
“It was emotional and touched my heart,” she said. “It was very sincere and a wonderful tribute to Jesus, and these children are now over here making a difference in our lives.”
David Phillips, the business administrator at the church, said the connection to bring the choir to New Port Richey was made through First Christian Academy, which is a church partner.
“It’s a pretty prestigious thing to get them (to visit and perform),” he said. “We love that they are here with us all the way from Uganda.”