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Friday, April 12, 2024

African children’s choir performs for 500 at Gainesville church

<p>The Watoto Children’s Choir sing and dance Thursday night at the Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church, located at 630 NW Second St.</p>

The Watoto Children’s Choir sing and dance Thursday night at the Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church, located at 630 NW Second St.

Mondays are easy for Byron Jimmy.

During the day, the 12-year-old does his school work, plays games and watches television.

However, his evenings are spent singing, dancing and playing the drums in front of hundreds of people.

Orphaned in Uganda as a child, Byron has spent the last seven months traveling down the eastern coast of the United States as part of the Watoto Children’s Choir.

On Thursday night, he performed with 21 other children in front of a packed room at the Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church, located at 630 NW Second St.

About 500 people overflowed the church, crouching in the aisles and craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the children singing, dancing and talking about their experiences in the Watoto ministry.

The Watoto Children’s Choir is the face of the larger ministry of Watoto, which provides homes for about 3,000 abandoned children and medicine to more than 2,000 HIV-positive women in Africa, said choir director Gideon Kizito, a 28-year-old from Kampala, Uganda.

“We have babies that we get from latrines, garbage trucks, hospitals and public places,” he said. “We give them the necessary care that they need to survive.”

The children’s choir started in 1994 as a way to spread awareness and raise support for the organization, Kizito said.

The choir has performed in schools, businesses and churches on four continents as well as in front of political figures such as Queen Elizabeth II and President George W. Bush.

Some of the children, whose ages range from 7 to 13, grew up raising their siblings on their own or as former child soldiers, Kizito said.

“This is a very different group of kids,” he said. “Because they have been through such a hard walk of life, we try to remind them that it is OK to act like a child.”

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Tonja Cave, a senior clerk for UF’s Office for Student Financial Affairs, attended Thursday’s performance with her daughter.

Cave, 45, said hearing the children’s stories was an important reminder of the blessings American children have.

“I told my daughter she was so blessed she could put her hand on food and clothes,” she said. “It’s important to remember.”

The Watoto Children’s Choir sing and dance Thursday night at the Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church, located at 630 NW Second St.

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