November 15, 2010
With joyous singing, dancing and drumming, the Watoto Children's Choir from Uganda delivered a clear message to a packed house at Knox College: "Life Is Good."
Indeed, that was the English translation for "Mambo Saba," the final song the group performed during a November 5 concert in Kresge Recital Hall.
The young choir members, who range in age from 6 to 14, wore colorful African clothing as they poured their energy into the crowd-pleasing show. They ended the performance by dancing their way offstage, moving through the aisles and into the lobby.
Harambee, a Knox College student club that promotes African identity, sponsored the concert as a fund raiser for the Watoto care program. The program helps women and orphaned children whose lives have been disrupted by war and disease in Uganda.
Throughout the concert, a few of the children -- all orphans -- told the audience a little about themselves and their culture.
One boy, 11-year-old David, lost his parents to HIV/AIDS six years ago, but he said he now lives "under the care of a loving mother through Watoto." He added: "Every day, I eat three wonderful meals, sleep in my own bed and go to school, where I am in third grade." David said he hopes to become an engineer someday.
Just before performing a song that prominently featured African drums, two girls in the group explained the percussion instrument's key role in their culture. "The drum is a sign of life," one of them said. The other girl quickly added: "In Africa, we can't play the drums without dancing."
Two missionaries, Gary and Marilyn Skinner, founded Watoto in 1982 in Kampala, Uganda. Twelve years later, they established the Watoto Children's Choir.
"What the choir does, is we are just the face of the ministry," said Paula Buzu, a Watoto team leader. "What we do is we, as a ministry, take care of orphaned children and women."
She is one of 10 adults traveling with the 22 children in the choir. The adults serve as surrogate parents, and each adult is responsible for two or three children. Four adults join the children on stage for performances.
Knox Harambee Club President Celestina Agyekum said that watching the children perform is a touching experience because they express so much happiness even though they've endured so much hardship.
"I'm very impressed," she said. "The adults do a really good job of bringing them together and teaching them the songs."
Members of Bethel Baptist Church in Galesburg, which Agyekum attends, hosted choir members overnight in their homes after the Knox concert.
Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 45 states and 48 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.