In 1988, in a town called Luwero, I was changed. There amid the banana plantations of a 79-year-old widow who had outlived six of her seven children… There amid the fruit stands where, with grim irony, vendors displayed rows of human skulls the same size as the pineapples scattered among them… There amid a shocking spectacle of defiance and memory, I was confronted by a naked reality that I could not ignore.
Six years earlier, my family and I had moved to Uganda – a country famous for violence and poverty. In Kampala, Uganda’s battered capital, we planted a church that we believed GOD would use to restore hope to the city and the country, whose supply was running desperately thin.
Uganda’s people had endured so much – corrupt and oppressive rulers had waged ruthless wars against the people, and when they were done with their slaughter nearly one million were left dead.
Luwero had been particularly ravaged by the wars that plagued Uganda for so long. But with the accession to power of Yoweri Museveni, a peace – though uncertain – had begun to prevail and the first glimmers of HOPE had begun to emerge.
We had planted a second church in the small town – 100 kilometres North of Kampala – and this was the reason I had made my journey there on that day.
As we approached the town we began to pass the roadside stalls where villagers normally sold bananas, mangoes and pineapples. With the war at an end, Luwero’s people began to mourn their losses, so the stalls became museums of death, where bananas, mangoes and pineapples were replaced with hundreds of human skulls. We stopped our car and I got out. As I held a skull in each hand, my heart broke for the people of Uganda who had suffered this way.
But that was only the beginning. The Pastor of Luwero’s young church took me to visit the widow I refer to in the beginning of this story. She was 79 years old and had mothered 7 children. As we walked through the banana groves behind her small hut, she began to point out the graves of her husband and six of her children. AIDS had killed them all.
Her last surviving child – a daughter – was dying of the same disease.
Surrounded by her 23 grandchildren, she pleaded in the way only a mother who has known the certainty of deep loss can, “I am an old woman and I can no longer dig. One day soon, I will also die. Who then will look after my grandchildren?”
Her voice assumed the cry of a Nation, a Continent engaged in the emerging reality of impending devastation.
AIDS has run a ruthless rampage in Africa. So many have died… So many children have been left orphaned and vulnerable… So many people have suffered…
And with each devastating loss, Africa collectively cries out, “Who then will look after our children?”
I was reminded of the verse in James 1:27 that says, “Religion that GOD the Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphan and the widow in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
My visit with this woman in a simple Ugandan village was one of the defining moments of my life.
So in 1994, Watoto Childcare Ministries was birthed out of our local church – KPC. Watoto provides holistic, residential care for orphaned and vulnerable children with the core vision to rescue a Child, raise a Leader and rebuild a Nation.
Through the generosity of people from around the world, Watoto has given life and HOPE to many children. ‘Villages of Hope’ with homes, schools and medical clinics have been built. And a Baby Watoto introduced in 2007.
And in 2008, the vision has been extended to war-affected Gulu (Northern Uganda) and we’ve embraced the plight of the vulnerable women in the Nation.
As an addition to the ministries within KPC, Living Hope will operate alongside Watoto and has initially committed to transforming and restoring the lives of 1,200 women in Kampala and 900 women in Gulu.
Many people from Australia, Canada, Europe, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and USA have sponsored children. Today, more than 1,400 children have hope and a future, growing up with families that love and value them. Some of them have already moved on and are leading productive, independent lives. Many of them are attending university. And some are just beginning their new lives as members of our Watoto family.
Thank you for our your continued support of Watoto.
Gary & Marilyn Skinner