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Church Helps Orphans in Rwanda

United Christian Parish of Reston receives the 2005 Global Perspectives Award.

Communities of faith often hold fund-raisers to raise money for local needs. However, some of those communities recognize the needs of people in other regions of the world, as many have for the tsunami relief fund.

The United Christian Parish (UCP) of Reston was honored at Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration by the event's Planning Committee with the 2005 Global Perspectives Award. The church was recognized for its work in Rwanda, helping the country's orphans get shelter and education, among other things.

The church became involved in Rwanda around seven years ago after its organist, Yvonne Kauffman, saw a television program about the needs of children in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide. "The people who should be getting this award," said Kauffman, "are the people in Rwanda." She said after the genocide, the country was left with an estimated 800,000 orphans. Since then, more people have died as a result of poverty and some from AIDS, raising the number of orphans to nearly a million. After seeing the program, Kauffman decided the church had to get involved somehow, although she was not sure how to do so.

THE CHURCH LEARNED of the efforts of a Methodist reverend in Rwanda, the Rev. Kaberuka Jupa. Since the Methodists had representation in Rwanda, and are one of the four denominations represented in the UCP, the church decided to make contact with Jupa. He had escaped from Rwanda into the Congo with a number of other refugees, where he began planning for orphanages and schools.

Upon returning to Rwanda, the plans began to be realized.

Under the auspices of the United Methodist Church, the UCP now has scholarships for 65 Rwandan children. The government in Rwanda charges $120 per year for an elementary-school student to attend school and $325 per year for a secondary-school student, said Kauffman. The Rev. M. Bruce Irwin, the pastor and team leader of UCP, said the church helped build a clinic and a school in three provinces, and is now working to establish a much larger facility in the capital, Kigali.

It is a major financial responsibility the church decided to undertake. The complex, a school, orphanage and a clinic, is estimated to cost around $1 million. It is about halfway built. The government of Rwanda requires a brick wall around the complex, which alone is estimated at $450,000.

So far, the money UCP sent to Rwanda was raised by the church's members. However, an independent nonprofit organization has been set up to support UCP's efforts, in case people did not feel comfortable contributing through a religious organization. The Rwanda Foundation Inc. received accreditation from the state of Virginia in September 2004. The mission of the organization is to support charitable work in Rwanda. Jim Vollmer, the chairman, said the foundation raised $1,800 to date. It is planning on sending out letters in the coming weeks, and setting up a Web site, which will be www.rwandafoundationinc.org, in order to let the people outside of the church community know about the efforts in Rwanda. "The only shot the orphans have to get an education," said Vollmer, "is if a group from outside comes into Rwanda." There are an estimated 100,000 children living in the streets of Kigali, said Vollmer.

Kauffman said UCP teams had visited the orphans in Rwanda twice, in January 2002 and again in June 2004. On its first trip, the team was asked to leave the country early, as a volcano had erupted, and the U.S. government did not feel it was safe for its citizens to be in the country. The eruption, said Kauffman, created earthquakes for three months after it. Upon return in 2004, she noticed a lot of the people who had to rebuild their homes after the genocide, had to do so again after the volcano eruption and subsequent earthquakes. "You can see they keep rebuilding and rebuilding," said Kauffman, "their spirits are wonderful." She added the people of Rwanda were glad to see anybody cared about their situation. UCP is planning on sending a team to Rwanda again in 2006. Just as UCP visited Rwanda twice, Jupa had visited UCP twice. His third visit is planned for this summer.

THE METHODISTS IN RWANDA are now 65,000 strong and are growing at about 5,000 people per year, said Vollmer. He said a statement dated Dec. 13, 2004, stated UCP sent $130,000 to Rwanda in 2004. Vollmer added he is working with the Herndon Rotary Club to get a grant for the work in Rwanda, thus setting up a Rotary International Foundation. To contribute to the efforts in Rwanda through the UCP, send a check to the UCP, and write on the check the donation is for efforts in Rwanda. UCP is located at 11508 North Shore Drive in Reston. To donate through the Rwanda Foundation, send money to 12804 Wrexham Road, Herndon, VA 20171. Donations to the Rwanda Foundation are tax deductible. UCP is an ecumenical church combining four denominations: United Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ. To learn more about the church's mission to Rwanda, visit www.unitedchristianparish.org/rwanda.htm.