David, 12, is one of them. He lost his parents to AIDS a couple of years ago and had to go and live with his elderly grandmother. Life was tough and instead of attending school, he had to spend his days digging for food in the garden.

Hope returned around two years ago when he was taken in by Watoto Child Care Ministries, an orphan care program based in the country’s capital city, Kampala. 

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The Watoto Children's Choir on their Australian tour at the Sydney Opera House. PICTURE: Courtesy of the Watoto Children's Choir

One of the 1,200 children that have been cared for by the group, David now has a home and a family as well as the basic practical necessities we all so often take for granted - food, clothes and an education.

He is also one of more than 20 children aged between seven and 13 years who are travelling around Australia with the Watoto Children’s Choir - what the group’s 28-year-old team leader, Adam Harris, calls “the voice and face” of the ministry.

Founded under the umbrella of the Kampala Pentecostal Church, the ministry places children who have lost one or two parents as a result of AIDS in homes inside one of Watoto’s four specially created children’s villages.

“All the kids in the choir are looked after that way,” explains Harris. 

“Basically the idea is that (the choir) is spreading the message of, not just the problem in Uganda, but of the solution that’s been found.”

Watoto’s origins date back to 1983 when two Canadian missionaries - Gary Skinner and his wife Marilyn - along with their three small children felt God told them to establish an English-speaking church in Kampala. Known as the Kampala Pentecostal Church, it has since grown to a congregation of around 12,500 people.

In 1993, the Skinners again felt God prompting them; this time to do something about the many orphans they were seeing in Uganda, primarily as a result of AIDS but also from war.

They subsequently founded Watoto Child Care Ministries (Watoto is Swahili for children) with the aim of providing orphans with a family, shelter, education and health care as well as attending to their spiritual needs.

As part of the ministry, the Skinners also founded the Watoto Children’s Choir, born with the aim of highlighting the plight of not just Ugandan children, but that of millions of children from right across Africa who have lost parents to AIDS.

In January, the choir kicked a six month tour of Australia and New Zealand. To date, it has included performances at churches, schools, shopping centres and at community events in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania as well as New Zealand.

Previous choirs (each choir is made up of different children) have visited the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom and while the group has previously visited Australia on a leg of last year’s US tour, this represents its first national tour of the country.

Harris first encountered Watoto when visiting Uganda in 2001 on a mission trip with Brisbane’s Gateway Baptist Church.

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Sisters and choir members Joan and Janet. PICTURE: Courtesy of Watoto Children's Choir.

“We were amongst the first group of Australians to see Watoto back in 2001,” he explains.

“We went over on a trip that was primarily medically-based - I’m a dentist. The group of us that went there - we’d seen a lot of projects - but Watoto was just one out of the bag in some ways. It was unlike anything we’d ever seen. We were just so amazed.”

Harris returned to Uganda last year on another medical trip and while there was asked if he and his wife, Fiona, like to be a team leader for the choir.

He has since left working as a dentist and is now travelling with the choir on a bus as it travels around the country.

Harris says that as well as promoting the work of Watoto and the situation in Uganda, the choir is also about exposing the children to a range of experiences they would not normally be involved in.

“It’s life-changing,” he says. “It opens their eyes up to so many things that otherwise they would never come into contact with.”

For David - a David Beckham fan who hopes to be a professional soccer player one day - it’s Australia’s beaches that have proved most attractive.

Asked what he likes best about this country, David’s answer is immediate: “Swimming”.


FOR AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES AND MORE INFORMATION ON WATOTO AND HOW YOU CAN HELP, VISIT www.watoto.com