Before the Watoto Children’s Choir was to take the stage, a Ugandan child peeked from behind the backdrop of an African savanna and looked out into the audience of a packed Kresge Recital Hall.
The children’s choir entered dressed in colorful outfits decorated with a variety of patterns. For the first song called “Paki Rwoth (Praise Him),” the continent of Africa was projected on the screen in the center of the backdrop as the children danced toward the center and onto a platform. The choir swung side to side while dancing and smiling. Some of the children stomped on the stage as the adults of the choir made their entrance with microphones in hand.
“It was definitely refreshing. It’s not something you get to see every day, at least at Knox, in Galesburg,” junior Supriya Kasaju said.
After the first song, a small boy came forward with a mic. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, addressing the audience, “My name is Brian and I welcome you to this concert of hope. Millions of children like us have been robbed of our parents and future. Each of us has a story … Let us celebrate our story of hope.”
An 11-year-old boy named David from the choir told his story. After he lost his parents to HIV/AIDS six years ago, he was sent to live with his grandmother who was 70 years old and already taking care of 15 grandchildren. She became ill and was unable to take care of him and so he was sent under the care of the Watoto program.
Before one song, the audience was asked the questions, “What does it mean to be a child? What happens when a child is stripped of childhood?” A contrast to the high-energy songs, the light mood shifted to heavy-hearted as a soft acoustic guitar introduced the song “Not Alone.” The choir’s conductor sat in the first row, directing the group while mouthing the words. At one point she repeatedly pointed to her ear to let the children know to listen to their pitch. The children were immersed in the song as they closed their eyes and put their hands in the air.
Although most of the children were orphaned due to HIV/AIDS, some of the children lost their parents to war. On the projector, a 9-year-old boy named Godfrey told his story of how his parents were soldiers. After they went to fight, his sister took care of him and his brother, but after he heard both of his parents were dead, his sister ran away and he took his brother to live on the streets. Four days later, a Watoto social worker found them.
In the interlude, the children sat all over the stage and one of them said they were going to take the audience on a trip to their country, Uganda. She said Ugandans love music, especially the drums, which is a sign of life in their culture.
The next song showcased the drums as three boys high stepped in front of the choir as adults drummed and children clapped. The vibrations from the drums resounded throughout Kresge. The children danced, pounding the stage with their bare feet and chanting, ending with posing with their hands in the air.
Preceding the next song was the statistic that 17 million children have been orphaned by AIDS in Africa. On stage, the children and adults of the choir re-enacted what it must be like to be one of those children. In the re-enactment, as three children were orphaned and dressed in distressed clothing, they went across the stage to two adults who were already hugging children. The adults shooed away the three children and they grabbed cleaning tools like a brush, pretending to work.
The song called “African Lullaby” began with a soloist singing, “Who will sing a lullaby?” A melancholy cello and piano played in the background as the older child of the three put her hands to her head in despair. Due to the strong emotions of “African Lullaby,” audible sniffling was heard from the audience near the end of the song as a man in a Watoto shirt came out and found the children and took them backstage. The children re-entered the stage in better clothes and they played with toys until a woman playing the role of a mother from Watoto came onto the stage and hugged the children.
“It was really inspirational,” junior Cameron Posey, a Harambee member, said. “It just made you feel good to know that somebody was going through something worse than you and they’re surviving and at the same time, they’re so talented.”
The final song was called “Mambo Sawa (Life is Good),” which shifted back to high-energy performance from the choir. Children danced and jumped into the air. As the music sped up, the audience clapped their hands. With the adults drumming, the children ran into the aisles at the very end and left Kresge. One of the children high-fived a Harambee member as he was running out.
“I thought they were amazing. They have so much energy and they’ve been traveling for like seven months already. They did a really good job and they’re really sweet kids,” junior Kay Tsoka, a Harambee member, said. “We gave them their meal beforehand and we were hanging around them afterwards. They were really nice.”
After the show, the audience was able to purchase CDs and merchandise to support Watoto. Sophomores Megan Beney and Elizabeth Schult both bought CDs from the show.
President of Harambee junior Celestina Agyekum said over $1,000 was raised including the sale of shirts, exceeding the $500 they were hoping to raise. “I was blown away by the people who came. So many people from town came and I was very surprised.”
Harambee is thinking of bringing the Watoto Children’s Choir back to campus, or the African Children’s Choir or an interchange between the two.
“I’d like to thank everybody: Knox, Galesburg for coming to support and the children do appreciate it for their donations. We are grateful and we hope to see them again when we bring them back. We hope they will come back and enjoy,” Agyekum said.