Marjorine Nabulime, 11, sat with her friends from the Watoto Children's Choir, practicing for the latter end of the group's New Jersey tour.

The young girl, a native of Uganda, is serving as a child ambassador, traveling the United States' east coast with a group of 32 members. The choir's goal: to raise awareness about the plight of orphaned children and vulnerable women of Africa.

For the seventh time, the Watoto Children's Choir will visit Central United Methodist Church in Linwood on Friday, Nov. 16, and the church's director of musical development, Carlyn Yard, couldn't be happier to have them.

"They just light up the stage, these kids. Their energy, their smile (is) just absolutely contagious," Yard said. "People walk away from these concerts just completely lit up."

The group, which features a new set of children each tour, will visit Linwood as their second to last stop in the state, and then fly to Brazil to share their message.

"Their performance is a mix of energetic singing and dancing intertwined with life-transforming stories where they share how Christ has transformed their lives and where they have come from, being an orphan child living in poverty to being rescued by Watoto and now having hope for their future," Jeanine Bedell, communication director for the U.S., said.

Marjorine joined Watoto in 2008 with her older sister, Angel, after her grandmother passed away. Her father had passed away as well, leaving her single mother struggling to support the family. Her mother, after being carefully screened, became a house mother at the Watoto Village, having to care for her children, along with six others, according to Marjorine's Watoto biography.

However, Marjorine may have it better than many of her peers. Most children have suffered the loss of both parents to AIDS, have been rescued from the life of a child soldier or are rape victims.

Founded in 1992, Watoto serves to care for these orphaned children, with hopes to bring them security and brighter futures. The children are offered holistic care, which recognizes their academic, social, emotional, physical or spiritual needs, said Bedell.

"Our official mission is to rescue a child, raise a leader and rebuild a nation," she said.

Since its inception, Watoto has sent 56 choirs to tour the world, sharing their "fusion of contemporary gospel and traditional African rhythms."

"I love singing because I am singing to God," Marjorine said via cell phone from Metuchen, their seventh stop in New Jersey.

Parishioners of Central United Methodist Church have been touched by stories such as Marjorine's, and in return visited Uganda to give back. Yard said that members of the church are planning a return trip in February to help build a dormitory.

"You just can't believe how happy these kids are, they come from such horrible backgrounds, every one of them," Yard said. "What Watoto does for these children is just incredible."

The Watoto Children Choir's Concert of Hope will begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, at Central United Methodist Church in Linwood. The performance is free and open to the public.

Contact Caitlin Honan:

609-272-7227