Watoto is a faith-based humanitarian organization that takes a holistic approach to child development. Of course, it is important that women and children in East Africa are being fed. By investing in the lives of these individuals, it is hoped to also give them a bright future.Watoto, Compassion for OrphansIn 1984, Canadians Gary and Marilyn Skinner founded Watoto Church in the heart of Uganda’s war-torn capital, Kampala. Gary felt that this English-speaking house of worship could bring healing to the city and the nation. Over the years, the church has spawned a series of inspiring, humanitarian projects.The Watoto Villages are a case in point. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, East Africa was hit hard by the AIDS epidemic. “During that time, Gary and the church felt compelled to respond with compassion to the millions of children that were left orphaned as a result of the AIDS epidemic,” Lorne Hamlyn, Country Director of Watoto Canada, explained. “They didn’t want to put these children in an institutional setting, but rather in a family setting, because everyone has the need to belong.”Lorne Hamlyn, Country Director of Watoto Canada, with Elana (l) and Moses (r)The First Watoto HomeSo, in 1994, the first Watoto home was established. The model was to have a house mother who was committed to 8 children. She was often a widow whose husband had died from AIDS. Through a program called “Father’s Heart,” men from Watoto Church committed themselves to become father figures and positive male role models to a specific Watoto home.“In this way, the orphans can have a childhood as close to normalcy as possible, growing up and have that mother there and have that father figure in their life,” Lorne, 42, explained.The Watoto homes were to become the nucleus of complete villages. The church now cares for just under 3,000 children in 3 different villages. “They receive the love and care that they need. They grow up to become a healthy and whole person,” Lorne continued. “It’s exciting that over 1,000 children have now graduated from Watoto and many are now productive citizens of Uganda.”Children’s Choir as AmbassadorFrom Uganda, the Watoto philosophy spread across the globe. As of this writing, the organization has established 11 country offices including Hong Kong, Brazil, and the Netherlands. One of the factors that facilitated this expansion was the traveling of the Watoto Children’s Choir made up of children in their care. To date, the choir has toured 6 continents and performed to audiences in schools, retirement homes, churches, parliaments, the White House, and Buckingham Palace.As Lorne put it, “These kids basically travel as ambassadors for the work that is done back home for them in Uganda. They often share their personal stories at the concert about what their life was like before they came to Watoto and how their life is now.” These performances have a huge emotional impact on the audience and serve as a first introduction to Watoto for many.A Life-changing ExperienceLorne himself was first introduced to Watoto through a church trip in 2003. He was part of a team that visited Uganda to build homes for the Watoto villages.Lorne remembered his first visit very well. “When I entered the village, instead of seeing poverty and hopelessness—the image that you often get of Africa—I saw children that were full of joy, full of hope, had a sense of purpose, and knew what they wanted to do when they grew up. They were getting a good education; they had a full tummy.”The trip was life-changing for him. “It opened my eyes to the needs in other parts of the world. It made me realize the responsibility that we have to respond with love to those who are hurting and in need. Not only by providing for their physical needs but also caring for the whole person.”Inspired by this journey, Lorne and his wife became personally involved in Watoto in 2005 as choir leaders. They lived in Uganda and toured with the choir in England, the United States, and Canada. After having their first child, they left life on the road for practical reasons, but Lorne’s heart was always at Watoto. Hence, after working in the oil industry for 8 years and when the opportunity arose to rejoin Watoto as Country Director for Canada, he jumped at the opportunity.Faith as a Driving ForceThe son of a pastor, Lorne is each day inspired by his faith. “What we are all about is celebrating Christ and caring for the community. We believe the two are completely tied to each other. We believe that the love of Jesus compels us to respond to the needs of others. So it is the driving force behind everything we do.”To underwrite his point, Lorne quoted a verse in the Holy Bibles’ Book of James. “You often hear the term ‘religion’ in a negative light. But this verse in the Bible says that a large portion of pure religion is caring about orphans and widows in their distress. And that is what we are doing at Watoto.”The importance of mother and father figures in their approach is biblically inspired too. “The concept of family is a God-ordained idea. I believe the family is the cornerstone of every civilization that is going to survive.”Reaching Out to Vulnerable WomenThrough Watoto’s new program called “Neighbourhood”, they are now reaching out to vulnerable women in the community. So they are giving them a hand up, by providing them with literacy training, skills training, and providing them with employment opportunities so that they can support their children. They are also helping many of these ladies’ children by giving them a high quality education in one of Watoto’s schools.Let us help youAt Raptim, we are proud to serve Watoto because they are willing to help people anywhere in the world. We believe our world is a better place when compassion can travel where it is needed most. 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