News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 17, 2013

Children’s dance troupe brings African color, vibe to Valley

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — They come from one of the poorest places on earth, but the joy and energy they express is astonishing.

More than 20 youth from Uganda, a sub-Saharan African country where purchasing power is less than 3 percent of that in the United States, sang and danced their way into the hearts of a large crowd Tuesday night at the Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church.

“I’m so excited,” said a young boy, a member of the Watoto Children’s Choir, a world-known group that has performed to royalty, national leaders and ordinary people all over the earth.

The children, dressed in colorful African garb, danced energetically as they sang songs of praise to God, quickly bringing the crowd of more than 200 to their feet.

“I am not forgotten,” the children sang. “God knows my name.”

Getting the world renown choir to Mount Pleasant was largely the work of Jess Berryhill, Jenny Kocher and Ginger Pruitt, three members of the church involved with serving children. Thanks to their efforts, Terre Haute was the first stop in an 11-concert tour in the Hoosier state. They head to Lebanon today, followed by Indianapolis, Peru and Bloomington the rest of the week.

The Watoto Children’s Choir is made up of young children who have been abandoned or have lost at least one parent to disease or war. They are part of Watoto Child Care Ministry, founded by Gary and Marilyn Skinner, in 1983 in Uganda. Thousands of children have been helped by the ministry, which is designed to help raise the next generation of African leaders, according to the Watoto website.

“I used to be very sad all the time,” a young girl in the choir told the audience. “I wished I had a mother to care for me.”

Berryhill, one of the event organizers, had been to Uganda and was familiar with the plight of children there, many of whom are orphaned due to HIV/AIDS.

“It’s just heartbreaking to see it,” Berryhill said before Tuesday nights concert began in the church.

Uganda, a country about the size of Montana with a population of 33 million, ranks 12th among countries in the world for mortality do to AIDS. Life expectancy is about 54 for men and 57 for women in the country – more than 20 years less than life expectancy in the United States.

The Watoto Children’s Choir raises awareness about the plight of the orphaned and vulnerable children of Africa. The choir has been all over the world since it was founded 19 years ago.

“The work that [Watoto] is doing in Uganda is just incredible,” Berryhill said. Raising awareness of that work and having the well-known choir perform at Mount Pleasant was “a God thing, definitely,” she said.

For more information about Watoto, visit the organization’s website at www.watoto.com.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com