UGANDAN youngsters, rescued from adversity, delighted the masses with their angelic voices at the Penang Christmas Open House 2014.
In turn, the Watoto Children’s Choir received rapturous cheers and applause from the thousands-strong crowd throughout their hour-long session of gospel melodies.
Clad in vibrant African traditional costumes, the group of 18, aged between six and 13, also injected exuberant dance moves into their uplifting routines during the event at Fort Cornwallis in George Town.
Team leader Mark Aikiriza, who was one of several adults accompanying the children, said the group was the 67th that the church, based in the country’s capital Kampala, had sent on tours.
Since its establishment in 1994 by two Canadian missionaries, the ministry had sent over 1,100 children all over the world to spread goodwill and cheer through their music.
“All these children have either lost one or both parents to war or disease. The church rescues these vulnerable youngsters, and raise them to be future leaders so they can help rebuild our country.
“The greatest resource Africa has is these children,” Aikiriza pointed out during the event on Sunday.
The youths are taken in under a holistic programme that includes being placed in cluster villages under care, and supported with education till university level.
To date, over 4,000 children have benefitted from the programme, while a further 3,000 are currently growing up under it.
Each year, different groups travel to various parts of the world to sing of hope and raise awareness on the plight of African children.
His group is currently on a five-month Asian tour that also includes stops in Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore, as well as Sungai Petani and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
Among the children who relished their first visit to Penang were Lydia Babirye and Ssenabulya Hassan, both aged 11.
“It’s great getting to know different people and making friends all over the world. Everyone has been so lovely and welcoming towards us.
“Penang is very different from home. The only similarity is the hot weather,” said Lydia, who aspires to be a journalist and has taken a liking to local fruits.
Ssenabulya said each place they visit brings a new experience. Over here, he particularly enjoyed rice with steamed fish.
“We love going on stage to show how God has changed our lives, through song and dance,” said the bubbly youngster who wants to be a pastor someday.
The open house, organised by the state government and the Christian Federation Malaysia (CFM) Penang, also featured a series of cultural dance and musical performances.
In his address, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said Christmas was a time for people to reflect on Jesus’ message of peace, which had resonated down the centuries.
“Even though there may be wars and violence, at the end of the day, peace shall prevail.
“And if there should be war, let it be against poverty, ignorance, corruption, disease and hunger,” he added.
The crowd of thousands, believed to be the largest ever for the annual open house, also enjoyed a sumptuous buffet spread throughout the night.