Dr Marguerite Barankitse: a career in people
LL.D, Friday, 21 April 2017
Born in Burundi, Dr Marguerite Barankitse’s story is the horrific one of the Burundian Civil War that she not only survived, but made sure more than 25 000 children survived it too.
Marguerite Barankitse’s mother adopted eight children when she and her brother were still very young. As a young girl being raised by a single mother in Burundi, Maggy dreamed of building villages for children left to fend for themselves. After qualifying as teacher, at 23, she adopted one of her students and took four more children into her home.
In 1993 in Ruyigi, the Tutsi tribe sought vengeance for the killing of members of their ethnic group by the Hutus. Maggy, a Tutsi woman tried to reason with the group of Tutsi, but in vain. To punish her for the betrayal of adopting children of a different ethnicity, the group, led by men, stripped her naked
and tied her to a chair. They forced her to watch as they set fire to the diocese building where hundreds of families were hiding. They mercilessly hacked her friends to death with machetes while they gave her a front row seat. The violence was absolute. A massacre. She survived.
Maggy found refuge in the home of a German humanitarian worker and spent the next seven months pondering the next step for the children who were orphaned. She became known as the “crazy woman of Ruyigi” who dared to take in all the orphans who came to her.
International NGOs present in Burundi and a growing number of friends from around the world helped make the miracle happen. The number of orphans was growing and Maggy expanded her activities and infrastructure. She gave her organisation a name: Maison Shalom - the House of Peace. The diocese of Ruyigi allowed her to use some of its buildings, a partnership that lasted until 2001. As needs grew, Maggy opened other centres for orphans; he Oasis de la Paix, in Gisuru, and Casa della Pace, in Butezi.
Children orphaned by war, Aids or poverty have been her main targets. Since first taking responsibility for 25 war orphans in 1993, Maison Shalom has assisted more than 25 000 orphans or poverty stricken children until now.
She knew that nothing could ever replace the warmth and stability of a family in a child’s development. Although the war continued unabated, Maison Shalom maintained its efforts to trace the origins of the children it had taken in.
The aim was to find their families. Those initial efforts paid off some time later, in the late 1990s, when Maison Shalom launched its first efforts at reintegration. Maison Shalom has developed into a larger enterprise reaching tens of thousands in Burundi, DRC Congo and Rwanda. In 2008, they opened Burundi’s most modern hospital, promoted a microfinance scheme for the Eastern parts of Burundi, organised a Cooperative for farmers, and created work places for former child soldiers. They also run schools at primary and high school levels in Ruyigi, Burundi.
Maison Shalom has through a scholarship programme, helped 400 young, gifted students in exile so they can continue their studies at Universities in France and Belgium.
In 2015, she was forced to leave Burundi due to the political turmoil. The rest of her staff also fled the country. The regime froze their bank accounts and closed down all Shalom activities. They lost everything they had built for more than 20 years.
However, Maggy returned and Maison Shalom is now active as ever before. It is established in Rwanda thanks to Rwandan authorities.
“We are convinced that our dream to see Burundians live a decent life can come true. More than 20 years of experience in the Great Lakes Region with vulnerable children has taught us that the best way to help efficiently and sustainably is to develop the community in which they live,” she says.
A great number of Burundian refugees are well-educated people, such as teachers, university professors, scientists, business people, engineers, musicians, journalists, doctors and psychologists who have no opportunity to practice their profession.
Maggie is establishing a Community Centre that wil function as a meeting place for all these different profes sions. Here people can teach other refugees whatever they have of professional skills, and House of Peace will offer space on their premises to start class es and training.
“The last year has been a time of loss and remembrance Many have lost their lives in the struggle for a free and just Burundi. More than 300 000 Burundians forced into exile are now living a life on the brink of what is possible,” she says.
The Aurora Prize for Awak ening Humanity was awarded for the first time in 2016 and Marguerite Barankitse became the first laureate of the prize A one million dollar award fol lows the prize.