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From Rwanda to Reston: Learning and Teaching

African pastor spends summer in Reston learning English, raising awareness.

Each morning at 6:30 a.m., in the small African village of Gisenyi, Kaberuka Jupa and his friends and family, gather around a single radio to listen Voice of America (VOA) bring updates on the latest news in Rwanda.

On June 2, Jupa, a pastor with the United Methodist Church in Rwanda, brought his own voice to America, and to Reston, as part of a nearly eight-week education and fundraising mission. One of the highlights of Jupa's tour was a visit to the VOA studios in Washington where he met the broadcasters that he listens to each morning.

When he returns to his native Rwanda on Aug. 23, Jupa hopes to return with improved English skills and financial help for his mission to build orphanages and medical clinics around his battered country.

"He especially needs English in his role as Central African church leader, as he must attend meetings in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and South Africa where English is used," said Marilyn Silvey, the former pastor of the United Christian Parish in Reston, the church that sponsored Jupa's visit. "He also needs English to preach at the U.S. churches who have heard about his situation and are sending financial help.

FOUR NIGHTS A WEEK, Jupa goes to an English class at NOVA in Loudoun County. "It's an interesting language, especially the grammar. It's very, very difficult and I have to work very, very hard."

Jupa speaks four languages: Kinyarwanda, his native tongue, Swahili, French and English. "English has been the most difficult to learn," he said.

Carol Venese housed Jupa for one week and has known the pastor since he visited Reston the first time a few years ago. "He's always working on his homework," Venese said. "His teachers say he is the best student in the class. His desire to learn is so impressive. He's so hardworking."

But for Jupa, who is the district superintendent of the United Methodist Church in Rwanda, mastering a new language doesn't really constitute work. Jupa, armed only with a cell phone, walks or rides his bike (he has no car) to all of his 77 parishes in Rwanda to tend to his 50,000 parishioners.

"English is the international language and if you want to know about the international issues or if you want to go on the Internet, then you need to know English, very, very well.

Recently, schools have begun to slowly introduce English into the classrooms, but without proper materials and teachers who speak English, progress has been slow.

JUPA SAYS HE HAS COME to America because his country needs help. "I would like to know them better and to share the story of my own country," Jupa said. "My country is a poor country with a lot of problems. It's known as the country of 1,000 hills and mountains, and thousands of problems."

Rwanda, roughly the size of Maryland, is a country where an estimated 70 percent of the more than seven million residents live below the poverty line. Less than 50 percent of Rwandans over the age of 15 can read and write. In a country still recovering from civil war in the 1990s, it is home to countless widows and Rwanda, like many of its African neighbors, struggles under the weight of the AIDS epidemic which claims a reported 40,000 lives a year. More than 400,000 Rwandans, or more than 11 percent of the population, lives with HIV/AIDS.

Each night, more than 400 orphaned children sleep in Jupa's local church and school in his hometown of Gisenyi where he grew up with four sisters and his parents, both of whom were pastors. The children receive one bowl of beans per day.

"We have a lot of orphans and widows who are so poor they can't eat and disease is commonplace," he said. "AIDS is a major problem. We are trying to teach people how to be careful, otherwise the country will be destroyed."

The soft-spoken Rwandan pastor said he is trying to make it easier for Rwandans to get condoms to fight the epidemic, but the lack of clinics makes that difficult. "My major priority is to have more mobile clinics and primary schools to help people to teach them how to behave and to help those who aren't able to assist themselves," he said. "Rwanda needs help. Government is working hard to restore, but they have a long way to go."

"Jupa's an inspiration," said Yvonne Kauffman, who helped organize Jupa's trip to Reston and hopes to return to Rwanda with her church group sometime next year.

JUPA HAS SPENT MUCH of his time in the states trying to convince Americans why they should pay attention to developments in Africa. "In every region of Rwanda, we are building orphanages and Americans can help finance these," he said, including his dream of building an orphanage and medical clinic in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

"It is not difficult to get American to pay attention to Rwanda because from my experience here I find that Americans are very generous. What they need is the information. They just need to know exactly what is needed of them to help. When they have more information about Africa, I think they will help more."

Jupa thanked the 10 families he has stayed with during his nearly two months in Reston. "Everything in America is special," he said. "I like very much that the people are so generous."

Silvey said that Jupa is seeking to help the many, many children in Rwanda who have been orphaned due to AIDS and Silvey's church is helping to facilitate his initial fundraising efforts stateside.

While he misses his family, including his seven children and his wife, back home in Africa, Jupa said the families in Reston have been "like home to me."

SINCE ARRIVING in Virginia on June 2, Jupa has been treated to some American entertainment and pastimes. From trips to garage sales, flea markets and Costco to a performance of Riverdance at Wolf Trap and a day at the Lake Fairfax water park, Jupa said he has gotten a good taste of life in the United States and a little culture shock. "I appreciate that Americans really enjoy their lives," he said. "They have very nice houses, cars and swimming pools."

But it was a trip on the Metrorail that may have been Jupa's most memorable moment. "I don't know how I can describe it. You mean, this goes underground? We travel underground? No way. Underground? Nah," he said, laughing.

Venese said his attitude is inspiring, and she looks forward to returning to Jupa's homeland. "He has a wonderful sense of humor about everything. He sees joy and fun in everything he sees and does, even a subway."