Burundi: Marguerite Barankitse

Who knows, even criminals can achieve wonderful things, if they are given a chance.

— Marguerite Barankitse

During the genocide of 1993/94, Marguerite "Maggy" Barankitse saved thousands of children from death or abduction at great personal risk. Her Maison Shalom has become an island of peace in a strife-torn country.

Marguerite Barankitse is dedicated to ending hatred and violence. With the financial help that she secured abroad, she has founded several villages in which Hutu and Tutsi orphans are working together and where they also learn to protect themselves against Aids. Maggy is laughing and crying at the same time. The students of the YCEE School in Ruyigi organized a welcome celebration in her honor, presenting her with a picture that they painted. Maggy, the most famous alumni and teacher of this school, had just returned from the US, where she received the Four Freedoms Award of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, together with UN General Secretary Kofi Annan. But she values the painting even more, which depicts her in the middle of many children. “We have stuck together to life during the worst times,” is her summary of a situation which can hardly be put in words. She owes her international fame, which was acknowledged by the Children’s Nobel Prize and the North-South Award, to a terrible incident. In October 1993 she witnessed the massacre of 72 people. She saved 25 children. She says: “In this night I became father and mother of 25 children abandoned in the middle of a bloody war. They gave me the courage to hang on.” At a time when hatred, fear and violence ruled the country, she relentlessly worked for the salvation of Tutsi and Hutu children. With finances from donors, Maggy has built Maison Shalom, a haven of peace and hope, which has saved thousands of lives. Young orphaned Hutus and Tutsis live and work together in Maison Shalom, learning agricultural or trade skills. Maggy says she has renounced marriage in order to dedicate her life to the education of children.

Maison Shalom