When Edwin Kigiozi was orphaned at age 9, he went to live in a Watoto children’s village in his native Uganda. Twenty years later he’s leading the Watoto Children’s Choir on tour across the U.S.
The choir is made up of orphans growing up in the Watoto Pentecostal Church’s vast holistic child care program.
“I lost my parents like these kids,” says Kigiozi, 29. “After my mom passed away we literally had nothing. We had to stay with my uncle, who had his own children. Coming to Watoto was a great experience – having my own bed, shoes, being able to go to school, having three meals a day without worrying about where the next meal would come from. It was a life changing experience.”
Kigiozi embarked on his first tour at age 12.
The choir began its current tour in December and spent most of February in North Carolina. It stops in Kannapolis and Charlotte this weekend.
“When I traveled with the choir I was exposed to different cultures. I realized I could become anybody just like anybody else in the world,” says Kigiozi, who attended university and works with the church as a musician and audio engineer when not touring.
Kigiozi toured once as a child, then returned to school and the village until he began touring again as an adult in 2007.
“Every child travels once, so we can give others the opportunity,” he explains.
He says the experience is transformative.
“I see them change from being shy and timid to becoming bold and respectful. They can talk to anybody and express themselves. That is what you want to see in children,” he says. “They see things like a beautiful road. They get to learn about democracy, what it means to be a good leader that is not corrupt, and see that a country will get developed.”
Sixty-four Watoto Children’s Choirs have traveled internationally since 1994 mixing traditional African music and dance with contemporary gospel. The choir benefits the children, but it also educates the rest of the world about their plight in Uganda.
While the people in northern Uganda are still reeling from the aftereffects of a 20-year civil war, Kigiozi says Uganda is one of the safest countries in Africa. The children living in villages do not fear kidnappings and violence, although the country’s government remains corrupt and its people impoverished.
Watoto has also started a program in northern Uganda to rescue and rehabilitate former child soldiers and return them to school.
“It’s unfortunate that many Americans have not been told the truth about Africa,” Kigiozi says. “They have treated Africa as a country, not as 50 independent countries. What is happening in Nigeria is not happening in Uganda. Uganda is very safe. Hollywood does not help. They choose to depict warlords, taken kids and disease. That’s true, but there’s another side of the story that’s really beautiful. A church that’s going to do something about the problem and change our world – that’s a beautiful story of hope.”
While singing and dancing can offer an escape from the strife, Kigiozi says the choir is more about honoring God.
“We’ve learned that no matter what has happened to our lives, God has a plan for each of us. The best way to express our love to God is singing and dancing. We sing when we are sad. We sing when we are happy,” he says. “That’s how we do it back home and we dance every time we sing.”
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Watoto Children’s Choir
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday; 5 p.m. Saturday; 9 and 10:30 a.m. and noon Sunday.
WHERE: Friday at The Refuge, 230 Refuge Way, Kannapolis. Saturday-Sunday at Freedom House Church, 2638 Salome Church Road, Charlotte.