Ugandans leave Oak Harbor for home

The children were treated to a barbecue Monday by members of the Oak Harbor Lutheran Church and First United Methodist Church. - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
The children were treated to a barbecue Monday by members of the Oak Harbor Lutheran Church and First United Methodist Church.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

A group of Ugandan orphans recently spent the last leg of their six-month tour of the United States in Oak Harbor before traveling home.

The 18 children were part of the Watoto Children’s Choir based in Kampala, Uganda.

“The children have lost one or both of their parents to war, famine or disease, namely AIDs,” group leader Ivan Bisaso said.

The kids bonded with local church-goers after an Oak Harbor group constructed a house in a Watoto village last year.

“The people were so friendly. They live on little and they’re so thankful,” Billie Tull of the Oak Harbor Lutheran Church said.

The Watoto choir was formed in 1994, and while they’ve made several stops in the U.S. over the years, along with other international travels, it was this group’s first visit to North America. They toured the West Coast.

In early June, the kids performed for Oak Harbor church audiences and came back into town Monday for a final visit.

That evening, the children played soccer at Windjammer Park as the supervisors and church members barbecued burgers and hotdogs. The children were energetic, polite and spoke impressive English.

“It has been exciting for them to see the world,” Bisaso said. “We travel so that the children can tell the stories of hope they’ve found.”

In Uganda, the group is cared for by Watoto Childcare Ministries, which provides residential care for orphaned and vulnerable children.

Uganda was one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to experience the devastating impact of HIV/AIDs, and civil and political unrest in the early 1980s and late 1990s, led to the loss of thousands of lives.

According to U.N. statistics, about two million children in Uganda have lost their parents.

Watoto has established three villages, with about 240 homes, Bisaso said. In each home, a house mother cares for eight children.

Tull was surprised to discover a young girl she was sponsoring, Priscilla, was among the choir group. She currently sponsors five Watoto children on a month-to-month basis.

“I figured I could either buy more lattes or I could help a child with their future,” Tull said.

Bisaso said the children thought Oak Harbor was beautiful. During their U.S. tour, they visited Lego Land, Sea World, the San Diego Zoo and they saw snow for the first time in Arizona.

The children returned to Uganda on Wednesday. They stayed with local families during their Oak Harbor visit.

Both the Oak Harbor Lutheran Church and the First United Methodist Church plan to return to Africa next year to build a medical clinic in Gulu, Uganda.

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