As a friend of mine had come to Uganda from Hong Kong to visit the famous Watoto Village, we were also given the opportunity to pay them visit in northern Uganda, Gulu. No doubt, the visit to Watoto – “children” in Swahili – was a highlight and at the same time challenged many of my beliefs working in the social impact sector.
Founded more than 30 years ago by a Canadian missionary couple, Watoto is a holistic care programme that was initiated to look after the overwhelming number of orphaned children and vulnerable women in Uganda. For many in the developed world, Watoto Children’s Choir and their lively singing is likely ring a bell. Since 1994, the Children’s Choir have travelled all around the world as advocates for the child of Africa spreading the hope and joy they have found through Jesus Christ.
Providing quality care to children is a core value of Watoto Village, they further strive to raise the next generation of African leaders through great education and spiritual discipleship. Watoto children’s home are constructed in form of small, vibrant communities – a setting which intends to replicate the African traditional dwelling. Each of the Watoto brick home consist of a housemother who cares for 8 children with running water and a bathroom, which are rare in rural Africa.
Without doubt, the high level of care provided to the Watoto children will never be questioned. In actual fact, having worked in several slums in Kenya, this children village almost seems unreal. In comparison to the East African living standards, the living condition inside the children village can almost be described as Utopia. With the help of Watoto, these children have indeed been rescued, reborn and reliving life without worries. Yet, during my visit I was almost convinced that if I was a mother earning a low to mid-income salary, I will definitely dump my child at the Watoto village for a better life. Whilst I would believe that Watoto village have stringent process in orphan identification, I also wonder how such grown-up children survive in the brutal reality of East Africa. Having lived in a perfect village setting, can these children combat the harsh society where more than a quarter of the population live below the poverty line? Moreover, a country where less than 40% of the population have formal employment? According to our guide in the village (also previously a child grown up in Watoto), more than 40% of the 500 grown-up children of the village have returned to work for the Watoto village. Whilst many questions remain unanswered, the passion for children and adults living in this Utopian village is certainly unquestionable.