Traveling troupe to depict African plight through dance in Rock Hill

Ugandan orphans to perform tribal dance in Rock Hill

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comJanuary 17, 2013 

  • Want to go?

    What: The Watoto Children’s Choir in concert

    When: Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

    Where: Northside Baptist Church, 1140 Curtis St., Rock Hill

    Cost: Free, but donations are accepted to help pay for the choir’s touring expenses

— Two dozen orphans who have never left Africa will spend the night in Rock Hill on Tuesday after they dance to rhythmic tribal beats and belt harmonies about poverty, war and disease to spotlight the plight of children in war-torn Uganda.

In a style organizers say resembles Broadway, the Watoto Children’s Choir – a traveling troupe of Ugandan children who have lost both their parents to war or HIV/AIDS – will blend traditional African song with contemporary gospel and share personal stories of hope and struggle at Northside Baptist Church in Rock Hill.

Sponsored by Watoto Child Care Ministries, the 22-child choir is one of five that travels globally each year to raise awareness about the millions of orphaned children in Uganda, said Jeanine Bedell, Watoto’s spokeswoman.

The choir, which includes children ages 6-15, started a five-month East Coast tour in October. None of the children have ever left Uganda, Bedell said, and only one singer still has at least one parent living, she said.

The Watoto organization started when Canadian pastors Greg and Marilyn Skinner moved to Zambia, and later to Uganda, in the 1980s, planning to build an English-speaking church in the war-torn capital of Kampala.

That soon morphed into Watoto Child Care Ministries, which seeks to “rescue a child, raise a leader and rebuild a nation,” Bedell said.

The ministry exposes the kids to education, medical care, trauma counseling and spiritual teaching, encouraging them to use newfound skills to help better the country. Completely donor-funded, Watoto supports the children’s schooling, she said, “whether it’s vocational school or university.”

Currently, Watoto is caring for 3,000 children and looking to expand in Sudan, Bedell said. The ministry chooses a new group of children to travel with the choir each year, Bedell said, to “enhance their worldview.”

The choir will only be in Rock Hill for one day before moving on to perform at a church in Spartanburg County, and then traveling farther south to Moncks Corner.

“The couple that founded Watoto, they took the calling seriously to be a family for people who don’t have a family,” said Scott Davis, pastor at Northside Baptist Church. Theirs is “a worthy model to emulate. They’ve not North Americanized what they’re doing over there.

“They’ve provided a family for people who don’t have one.”

Davis, who moved to Rock Hill with his wife and children five months ago, saw the choir perform while an associate pastor at a church in Louisville, Ky., he said. Recently, he received an email from the choir looking to fill concert dates on its schedule.

He saw that they planned to be in Concord, N.C.

“I was like, ‘Wow, they’re going to be right here,’” he said. A few exchanged email messages later, and the choir agreed to come.

Following the concert, the children and their adult chaperones – who also dance, play instruments and operate sound and lighting equipment – will spend the night with couples from the church who have volunteered to host them.

“It’s just a blast to have these folks,” said Davis, who has opened his home to the traveling choir in the past and knows firsthand the culture shock they experience.

The kids aren’t accustomed to the “freedoms and media consumption and some of the addictive substances that are so commonplace here,” he said. “Their eyes light up when you take them out for ice cream.”

When the call for volunteer host families went out at Northside, there was no hesitation from Scott and Kelly Crouch, who are raising two teenage boys on their farm on the York-Chester county line.

“I love kids,” said Scott Crouch, Northside’s children’s minister. “We saw it as a great opportunity to talk to kids from another country.”

For Kelly Crouch, it’s all about the “cross-cultural” experience. Two church members are currently missionaries in Africa, she said, and help give the congregation insight into what’s happening on the continent.

Three Ugandan boys, two of them 11 and one of them 10, and one male chaperone will be staying with the Crouch family.

Watoto has already given the family guidelines to observe during the choir members’ stay. Those include not watching television and not giving gifts to their guests.

Kelly Crouch doesn’t expect language to be much of a barrier.

“When you’re a kid, it’s a universal language,” she said.

Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082

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