As we prepare for the Queen’s Jubilee this month, it was perhaps appropriate that Her Majesty was involved in an event that, for all our present social, political and financial anxieties, made the world smile.
Lydia Amito was orphaned at the age of one in 2004, in the midst of a brutal campaign waged by the Lord’s Resistance Army against civilians in Uganda, the violence then spreading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan.
Recently, at celebrations for Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee at Windsor Castle, Lydia greeted the Queen the way she greets everybody: with a hug. It’s not protocol to touch the Monarch other than with the briefest of handshakes, so the picture of the little girl hugging a smiling Queen went round the world.
Lydia’s life could be much different if it were not for Watoto Childcare Ministries, founded in 1994 by Gary and Marylin Skinner (left) in Kampala. Tours of the Watoto – Swahili for ‘children’ – choir are world-famous, including visits to Cambridge which most recently took in St Bede’s School. Some of the children stayed over in Fulbourn, where villagers have been supporting Watoto for some years.
So it was disappointing, to say the least, to hear a minority view voiced by British people in the 21st century that it was unfair on the children to let them see other cultures as they would be going back to a level of social and economic poverty from which they might never escape. However, to see the children’s’ confidence, it’s obvious that the tours’ other goal – besides fundraising – is succeeding: raising men and women equipped to deal with the outside world as equals.
Christine Lutara (left) is Operations Director of Living Hope, Watoto’s branch which helps women who were abandoned, abducted, widowed and/or infected with HIV during the war. She told a Sunday paper how the women, and children like Lydia, are taught to deal not just with prejudice but coming face-to-face with people who have hurt them, who might also now be Watoto villagers themselves: ‘if you chase after the snake that bit you, its poison races round faster around your body…you can either choose revenge and chase the snake, or you can choose to live.’
It’s an insight so stunningly simple that it might be scriptural. Growing up around wisdom like this, it’s no real surprise that little Lydia made the Queen, and the world, smile.
Click to go to Watoto Childcare Ministries
See the Daily Telegraph video about when Lydia hugged the Queen
Watch a video about the founding of Watoto