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Thousands of Israelis were treated to the captivating color and rhythm of the Watoto Children's Choir when the well-traveled African ensemble danced and sang their way through a two-and-a-half week concert tour of the Holy Land this month.
The choir is made up of Ugandan children orphaned by the AIDS pandemic in Africa, but their hope-filled message and energetic style has thrilled audiences worldwide in recent years, including at two performances at the White House.
During their first concert tour through Israel, the group performed at an array of venues, including the Neveh Shalom Youth Village, public and private schools, the prestigious Abu Ghosh music festival, a huge New Age festival on Lake Kinneret, as well as concerts for several local churches, and at the Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.
"No matter where we went, Israelis fell in love with Watoto," said Joan Lipis, who coordinated the group's whirlwind tour of the country.
"It was amazing how there was no difference in reaction among the secular and religious communities," she said. "In fact, the Watoto choir got more of a response from secular audiences when they talked about God."
"After performing in the archaeological park below the Temple Mount, even several ultra-Orthodox Jews approached us wanting to join the Watoto 'builders team' that is developing homes and schools for AIDS orphans in Uganda," she told The Jerusalem Post's Christian Edition.
The choir celebrates the love and hope they have found in God while raising awareness of the scourge of AIDS and other problems plaguing Africa. Despite their tragic backgrounds, the children are electrifying and their joy infectious when they are on stage.
"At one local school, the place was just going wild and an Arab pastor from Abu Ghosh said it was a major breakthrough, because many of the local school children had developed hard hearts towards God," said Lipis.
At the Even Yehuda American School in Jerusalem, two of the teachers immediately wanted the Watoto children to speak to their classes.
Another secular venue was the popular Bereshit outdoor festival that draws some 35,000 youngsters and "new agers" to Tiberias during Succot.
"We were given the worst possible time slot to perform, right before Shabbat, but from the moment we walked into the festival to get on stage, people were following us and thousands of young Israelis were shouting for an encore," recalled Lipis.
Another performance took place at Ein Gedi, where they dazzled over 6,000 Christians gathered for the opening of the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
Sylvia, a six year-old Watoto singer, was orphaned along with her 10-year-old brother Peter just last year, but she told the crowd with a radiant smile that when she grows up she wants to be a "teecha."
The Ugandan church that sponsors the Watoto choir is ultimately hoping to care for over 10,000 AIDS orphans and raise them as future leaders in Africa. Edward, a manager of the Watoto choir, explained that there are over two million AIDS orphans in Uganda alone.
"We need to rescue so many children, and this motivates us to travel the world singing, spreading hope and finding sponsors willing to help with this worthy cause. At the end of the day, we are helping children to get their life back," he said.