Presently more than one out of every twenty persons in Uganda is infected with AIDS. At the height of the epidemic about 30% of all pregnant women were diagnosed with AIDS. As a result, according to statistics there are nearly one million orphans in Uganda. That is 20% of all children.
When I saw the young African orphans from the Watoto Children’s Choir sing and testify in September, I felt I must visit. These were some of the AIDS orphans who had been rescued. Their presentation deeply touched us.
On my last day in Uganda I was finally able to actually see the Watoto campuses. We left the hotel early and headed out of the city. On the way we saw many unique images: A man carrying about 100 pineapples on a moped, three people cruising down the highway (if it can be called that) on a motorcycle, a truckload of skinned pigs and lots of bunches of bananas. (Half of the world’s apes live in Uganda)
Continuing on our way images of shadily clothed children walking down the dirt roads in the city filled my camera lens…and then suddenly, everything became lush, green and quite beautiful. Despite the beauty, the living standards outside the city appeared far quite desperate to me.
We entered a gate into a village and everything changed. I saw new and clean brick buildings; everything was green and in order. It was as if I left Uganda and was on the campus of some private school in the U.S. This was the newest of three Watoto Villages. One thousands six hundred children who have lost their parents to AIDS live on these campuses.
Children have uniforms and go to their own private school on the same campus (The school is so good that children with parents seek to enroll their children in the Watoto school). The school is equipped with computers and an excellent faculty of missionaries and local Ugandans.
Each child lives with a ‘mother’. A mother goes through extensive training, which includes personal counseling, and then becomes an apprentice to another mother before she is placed in a home. Each home has eight children with both boys and girls. To be a mother you must make a ten-year commitment to Watoto. The community on each campus is rich with friendships between the children and mothers.
Eddie, my host and I visited one of the homes where they had planned for us to come and eat lunch. This mother has been with some of her children for over ten years. Her oldest is now twenty-three and recently graduated from university. She is preparing for post-graduate work. Her youngest, an eight-year-old orphan named Esther, if my memory serves me correct, was only recently placed with her. This little girl had lunch with us and you could see that she was still not quite used to living there. In the beginning she was very shy but once her ‘sisters’ came home from school, she opened up. (Me and Esther, right)
After lunch Eddie and I walked around the campus visiting different homes. Eddie wanted to find Moses. Moses was the first ‘graduate’ of Baby Watoto, which we wrote about last week. Once Moses’ second birthday arrived, he was transferred to the Watoto Village and is now part of a home with seven brothers and sisters. His caretakers from Baby Watoto visited him often in the beginning to help him with the transition. After a short search we found little Moses. He was a little grumpy, but his ‘brother’ wasn’t and wasted little time making it clear that he desired to be filmed as he tried to climb me like a tree in order to get to my camera. (Moses with his new mother and sister on right)
School was ending as we were leaving. Eddie is a bit of a celebrity with the students because he is one of the tour leaders. Every year different groups of children travel the world in choirs (Australia, Israel, America, Japan, Great Britain, China are just a few of the nations to which they have been.) Eddie led the one that came to Jerusalem. This is one of the ways they raise operating funds. Several of the former orphans ran to Eddie to greet him when they saw him.
I asked Eddie about the male influence, given that there are housemothers, but no housefathers. He explained that Kampala Pentecostal Church, the 17,000-member church that oversees Watoto, has a men’s ministry that provides opportunity for men in the church to regularly visit the children of Watoto.
I got in the back of the van and thought to myself: Is there a more worthwhile cause for which to give your life? I was moved deeply and vowed to return. I also resolved that while I know that my ‘first love’ in ministry is Israel and Israelis, that we would remain open to allowing the Lord to use us in this worthy endeavor at some level.
You can view all our pictures and even a short video at http://gallery.mac.com/roncan. BLESS YOU ALL!!!
Committed to the Messiah’s Mandate,