Three groups of children dance energetically to the upbeat sound of ‘Be Exalted’, one of the songs on Watoto’s new album. As they dance, their voices shoot high above the beats of the sound track. Their actions accompany the words that flow from their hearts, as they lift their hands in unison to exalt His Holy name.
“Great smiles, now let’s try to sing a little louder,” a voice is heard from the pews encouraging them to go on. It’s the voice of Maria Namubiru, their music instructor and Assistant Team Leader for Choir 70, travelling to USA in January.
For four hours every day, she dances along with the children, their eyes always fixed on her for their next key or dance move. “Now move to your left. Do not distort the lines. Remember not to break away from your group,” she insists.
The children trust her and follow her lead, like they would follow their mothers or older siblings. “It takes time to be able to achieve this kind of trust and openness from them,” says Maria. “I play with them during our play time. I’m not just their instructor or teacher; I’m their friend as well,” she adds.
During playtime, she sits with the children and tries to interpret the message in the songs for them. She asks each one of them to share his or her story and some of the children share the tough moments they went through.
Some children are reluctant to open up because they come deeply wounded. It takes time to bond and create a safe environment where they are able to heal and share their stories. Maria, who grew up in the Watoto extended program, shares her own story with them. This opens the door for them to heal and see that they can also achieve great things. Maria has been empowered to help rebuild their lives. When she has all their attention, she moves her eyes from one child to another and recounts her story.
“It was completely the love of the Father that gave me the opportunity to be part of the Watoto extended program. I wasn’t raised in the homes, but I received support from Watoto. I lost my parents at a tender age and my uncle took me in with the rest of my siblings. He had six children, plus three of my siblings; that was quite a number for him to look after. I experienced a sense of hope when Watoto agreed to support us. From that day on, I don’t recall a memory of lacking school fees.
“Of course, I have memories of not having everything. I didn’t know Jesus and many times I wondered, ‘Why me?’ There were times when I wished I were a part of the families in the Watoto homes. I thought the children there were more privileged than I was. When I think about it now, I know that God had a reason for leaving me with my family.
“It’s for this reason, a time like this one, that I may be able to share my story with you. God listens and He cares,” Maria helps the children understand.
“Auntie Maria loves me so much. She makes sure everyone is happy. She will know when you are not feeling well and ask you what the problem might be,” said Miriam Mujawimana, one of the children on Maria’s team.
As the day comes to an end, the team thanks God for all the achievements of the day. “Hold hands, close your eyes and speak loudly to God. This time is for you and your God. Tell Him about your failures and your strengths. He will lift you up,” Maria tells the children.
“Thank you auntie Maria for teaching us…” The chorus exclaims. In straight lines, the children march to the bus and they’re ferried home. This marks the end of their rehearsal day.