Caleb was abandoned by his mother in Uganda as a small child, but instead of facing an uncertain future without family support he is travelling the English countryside with 16 other children just like him.
Now 10 years old, Caleb is one of thousands of orphaned or vulnerable children who have been supported by Watoto Child Care Ministries, and part of a troupe of performers that will travel to all corners of Britain and beyond in the coming six months.
“My mother first abandoned me in the road and then the local authorities brought me to Watoto. And then I met two years they took me to Watoto village. And then one year passed and then the second year when I’m in Watoto I started schooling,” Caleb said.
Asia, also 10, was taken in by Watoto’s Neighbourhood programme when her single mother became unable to afford housing and schooling her.
“I’ve been in Watoto for two years, this might be my third year. So when they took me Watoto my mother was very happy that she could at least have something to eat. Because when I was there I had to eat, I had to drink and she had to go for work and she had no one that can take care of me. So when she took me to Watoto she started tailoring and other businesses that can help her,” Asia said.
In the next six months, Watoto’s touring choir will take Asia and Caleb to all corners of Britain and finally the Netherlands, helping to raise money for the organisation and spreading the word of its work.
“Back home in Uganda there are more children who need help so we come here and get sponsors, so that they can sponsor the children and so that the children can be educated,” Asia added.
Jacqueline Niaga is one of the adult support staff travelling with the children – and was once a member of the choir herself.
Watoto took her into care when she was 8 years old and she toured the United States with the travelling choir a year later.
Now 29, she carries treasured memories of her touring days and knows how valuable the trips are to other children who take part.
“We have children who are between the ages of 6 and 13 and all the choirs last for a period of six months. So on the choirs we travel all around. This is the UK choir, there’s one in Asia, there’s two in the US, one in Canada and we have one that goes to Brazil so we’re going around the world. And still it’s the same thing, to raise awareness and support.”
Jacqueline is especially proud of the Neighbourhood programme, which tackles one of the root problems facing poor families: mothers and children left to fend for themselves.
“Neighbourhood, where we take care of vulnerable women, these are ladies who have been abandoned by their husbands and some of them have lost their husbands, some of them are living with HIV/AIDS and some of them have never been to school so they’re struggling with life to raise up their children.”
The choir is part of the Watoto Ministry, which was founded in 1994 and takes care of about 3,000 children in three villages in Uganda, supported by sponsors based in-country and abroad.
The Watoto Choir has performed to royalty and heads of government around the world, at venues including Buckingham Palace and the White House.