Marguerite Barankitse

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Barankitse in Yerevan at Matenadaran, during the panel Aurora Dialogues, before the Aurora Prize ceremony
Barankitse on a 2017 Armenian stamp

Marguerite (Maggie) Barankitse (born in 1957 in Ruyigi, Ruyigi province, Burundi) is a humanitarian activist who works to improve the welfare of children and challenge ethnic discrimination in Burundi. After rescuing 25 children from a massacre, she was forced to witness the conflicts between the Hutu and Tutsi in her country in 1993. She established Maison Shalom, a shelter that provided access to healthcare, education, and culture to over 20,000 orphan children in need.[1] Because she protested against a third term for President Nkurunziza, she lives in exile.

During the 22 years that it operated in Burundi, Maison Shalom grew into a large network of schools, hospitals, and healthcare services across the country. Its purpose was to improve the lives of Burundi's children, through integrated and sustainable development with the ultimate aim of fostering lasting peace in the country. However, in 2015 Barabkitse was forced to flee her country, and Maison Shalom plunged into a political crisis.[2] Far from surrendering, Barabkitse shifted her focus and decided to dedicate all of her energy to helping more than 90,000 Burundian refugees in Rwanda.[3] In 2017, she opened the Community Center Oasis of Peace in Kigali to help schoolchildren, offer psychological and social support to torture and rape victims, and implement sustainable development activities in areas such as health, education, vocational training, culture, and income-generation.[4] She stated that her vision is to instill dignity in refugees to keep their dreams alive: "Evil never has the last word – Love always wins."

Barabkitse has received numerous awards, including the Juan Maria Bandres Prize for Asylum Rights, and the French Government's Human Rights Prize (both 1998), the World Children's Prize (2003),[5] the Four Freedoms Award (Freedom From Want), the Voices of Courage Award of the Women's Commission for Women and Refugee Children (both 2004),[6] the Nansen Refugee Award (2005), the Opus Prize (2008),[7] the UNESCO Prize (both 2008), the Prize for Conflict Prevention (2011), and the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity (2016).


Marguerite "Maggie" Barankitse was born in 1957 in Ruyigi, East-Burundi, one of the poorest regions of the country. Of Tutsi heritage, she was a teacher at a local secondary school but was fired because of her protests against discrimination between the Hutu and Tutsi in the field. She then went to work as a secretary for the Catholic bishop in Ruyigi.[8] Despite mounting tensions, Barabkitse put her dream of ethnic harmony into practice by adopting seven children: four Hutus and three Tutsis. As violence escalated between the two tribes following the assassination of the first democratically-elected president of Burundi, a group of armed Tutsis descended on Ruyigi on October 23, 1993, to kill the Hutu families who were hiding in the Bishop's manor. Barabkitse had managed to hide many of the children but was caught by the fighters. They beat and humiliated her and forced her to watch the killing of 72 Hutus, but she refused to tell them where the children were hidden.[9] Ultimately, she was spared only because of her Tutsi heritage. After the ordeal, Barankitse gathered her adopted children and the surviving orphans and hid them in a nearby school. As more and more children sought shelter with her, she decided to create a small nongovernmental organisation: Maison Shalom, the House of Peace. Her house was open to children of all ethnic origins: Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa. She calls them "My Hutsitwa children",[10] and they call her Oma[11] (or "grandmother" in German). In the following years, Maison Shalom in Ruyigi was one of the few places in Burundi where Hutus and Tutsis cohabited in harmony.[12]

Since the events of 1993, over 20,000 children and youth have benefited from Maison Shalom. Before the current crisis in Burundi, the organisation employed more than 270 people, including nurses, psychologists, and educators who implemented special projects for the children.

In April 2015, Barabkitse spoke out against the third term of President Pierre Nkurunziza and joined the youth demonstrations denouncing him. As a result, she was obliged to hide for a month in an embassy in Bujumbura.[13] Eventually, she had to flee; the government had her name on a death list.[14] Barabkitse found herself a refugee.

Yet, her refugee status did not stop her devotion to alleviating suffering: She has opened a branch of Maison Shalom in Rwanda.[15]

Maison Shalom in Burundi[edit]

In the autumn of 1993, after the assassination of Melchior Ndadaye, the first democratically-elected president of Burundi (a Hutu), the Burundian civil war began with massacres taking place throughout the country. In the province of Ruyigi, disaster struck on 24 October. To exact vengeance for the killing of members of their ethnic group, the Tutsi hunted the town's Hutus, who were hiding in diocese buildings. Barankitse, a Tutsi, was also there, and she tried to reason with the group of Tutsi to not to use violence. However, her efforts were in vain: They decided to tie her to a chair and forced her to watch the killing of 72 of her friends.[16] A few hours after the massacre, the children of the victims started to come out of their hiding places. That day, Barankitse says, she realized that her mission would be to fight the violence ravaging her country by giving those children, and the 20,000 who would follow, an alternative to hate.[17] Amid the prevailing disaster, the news spread rapidly about the "crazy woman of Ruyigi" who dared to take in all of the orphans who came to her, never refusing anyone. Twa, Hutu, Tutsi: Barankitse made no distinction.

Barankitse initially gathered the 25 orphaned children of the Ruyigi massacre. With the help of European and Burundian friends, she organized a network that provided care for a growing number of children.[18] In May 1994, the Roman Catholic bishop of Ruyigi, Bishop Joseph Nduhirubusa[19] agreed to transform a former school into a children's shelter called 'Maison Shalom'. It was named so named by the children, in memory of a song heard on the radio at the time, and because the word "peace" in Kirundi had been instrumentalized and defiled by the slaughterers on both sides of the conflict.[20]

Maison Shalom's focus was predominantly children, including child soldiers, orphans, mutilated children, and minors in prison. However, its services were available to the entire community, having an impact not only on the lives of orphans but also the entire region that could access to its services. Maison Shalom's activities soon also expanded to other cities such as Butezi and Gizuru, where Barankitse opened other children's shelters.

Over the years, what was merely a shelter seeking to protect orphans from both sides after the civil war, grew into an entire village,[21] and included a bank, a crèche, the REMA Hospital,[22] a hotel,[23] a shop, a resource centre for learning sewing and computing, a mechanic training school, a swimming pool, and even a cinema.[24]

REMA Hospital built by Maison Shalom in Burundi

Many of the activities were income-generating initiatives run by the youth themselves, such as the guesthouse, the cinema, the car workshop, and the like. When they became independent, the young people supported by Maison Shalom received a small house and a plot of land.

In 2004 an estimated 20,000 children had benefited from Barankitse's help, either directly or indirectly.[25][26]

By 2015, over 300 houses for children and youth aged between 4 and 20 had been built. The NGO also helped internally displaced persons and returning Burundian refugees to reintegrate in Ruyigi and to find their missing relatives. Barankitse was also on the frontline in the battle against HIV/AIDS, setting up counselling projects to promote HIV/AIDS prevention. She and her staff cared for over 100 HIV-infected children who had been abandoned or orphaned.

Barankitse also started an initiative to help imprisoned youth. Some children were born in prison, and she worked to find them a better life, through education and a home outside prison. Her team continued to promote agriculture and established a microfinance project to enable the parents to develop small businesses.[27]

In 2015, however, everything fell apart. The Burundian government started suppressing protests against President Nkurunziza. Thousands of Burundians started fleeing to Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania or the DRC. Barankitse protested, cared for the wounded young, and fed those who were in prison. But in June 2015, Barankitse was herself forced to flee. In Burundi, there is a price on her head.[28]

Maison Shalom Rwanda and the Community Center Oasis of Peace[edit]

Barankitse refused to spend her days in Europe comfortably and decided to dedicate her energy to help more than 90,000 Burundian refugees in Rwanda.[29] She started with her expertise: education. She fought for education for children and university students in refugee camps.[30] She put 126 children in preschool, 160 in secondary school, and obtained 353 scholarships for university-level refugee students to join Rwandan universities, and 10 scholarships for the best students to study in universities abroad.

In May 2017, Barankitse opened the Community Center Oasis of Peace for schoolchildren, offer psychological and social support to victims of torture and rape, and to implement activities of sustainable development in areas such as health, education, vocational training, culture, and income-generation.[31] The Center offers a variety of courses including in English language, culinary arts, tailoring, embroidery, and painting. It also has a restaurant and is cyber-equipped with computers with internet connections for research and basic computer training. Approximately 200 people come every day to the Centre and benefit from the various services offered by Maison Shalom.[32]

Maison Shalom seeks to help refugees and especially young people in exile to live in dignity, to use the period of exile for empowerment and forgiveness for those who forced them to flee their homeland.[33]

Elite Center of Maison Shalom at Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda.jpg

Mahama Refugee Camp and Mahama Elite Center[edit]

Since 2015, more than 430,000 Burundians have been forced to flee and to seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda.[34] Among them, more than 90,000 are in Rwanda, of which 58,000 live in Mahama refugee camp.[35] This camp is considered to be a model case of refugee management in the East African Region.[36]

To support the refugees living there,[37] Maison Shalom opened the Mahama Elite Center on 22 June 2018.[38] This training center was poised to offer vocational training and employment to Burundian refugees in the camp. The project will enable young people to improve their living conditions but also to strengthen their entrepreneurship skills.[39]

Awards and Honours[edit]

The scope of her action, as well as the fact that she protects all children without consideration of their origin, Tutsi or Hutu, brought Maggy praise from all corners of the world:[40]

Honorary Degrees[edit]

Books about Maggy and Maison Shalom[edit]


  1. ^ The Huffingtonpost,"Burundi's Great Mother: Maggie Barankitse", October 2013
  2. ^ Council on Foreign Relations, Burundi Political Crisis,!/conflict/political-crisis-in-burundi
  3. ^ The Telegraph, "Why the 'Angel of Burundi' fears her country is sliding back into genocide", November 2016
  4. ^ The New Times Rwanda, "Oasis of Peace: Giving Burundian refugees new lease of life"
  5. ^ World Children's Prize, Maggy Barankitse Laureate,
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Nekita Ink, "Extraordinary Women: Celebrating Marguerite Barankitse 'Angel of Burundi'", June 2017,
  9. ^ University of Notre Dame, "The Courage of Giving Refuge: Marguerite Barankitse",
  10. ^ UNICEF, Woman's mission for Burundi children was sparked by genocide, May 2004,
  11. ^ Le Temps, "La femme qui défie la haine au Burundi", November 2005,
  12. ^ Psychologies, "Marguerite Barankitse, l'harmonie entre les peuples", December 2010,
  13. ^ The Guardian, "'Why does no one mention Burundi?' asks winner of new humanitarian award", June 2016,
  14. ^ RFI Afrique, "George Clooney remet le prix Aurora à la Burundaise Marguerite Barankitse", April 2016,
  16. ^ La Vanguardia, Ima Sanchís, Marguerite Barankitse, La 'Loca de Burundi', Mars 2009,
  17. ^ La Vanguardia, "Fundadora de Maison Shalom pide a Europa que deje de pagar guerras en África", February 2018.
  18. ^ Christel Martin, La Haine n'aura pas le dernier mot : Maggy, la femme aux 10 000 enfants, Paris, Albin Michel, October 2005, 47-48-90-102 p. (ISBN 2-226158588)
  19. ^ "Bishop Joseph Nduhirubusa". David M. Cheney.
  20. ^ Pères Blancs, Voix d'Afrique N°83, "Maggy et la Maison Shalom",
  21. ^, "Maggy Barankitse Built A Village And Saved Thousands of War Orphaned Children in Burundi",
  22. ^ Iwacu Burundi, "20 ans de la Maison Shalom : "Aujourd'hui, nous célébrons la victoire de l'amour sur la haine!", November 2013,
  23. ^ Afrotribune, "Qui est Marguerite Barankitse, la mère de 20.000 Burundais?" Mars 2018,
  24. ^ ActionAid, "Maison Shalom - House of Peace", October 2011.
  25. ^ "Maison des Anges le site de l'association en France pour la Maison Shalom au Burundi". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2006-02-09. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  26. ^ The Huffingtonpost,"Burundi's Great Mother: Maggie Barankitse", October 2013
  27. ^ « Les maisons d'orphelins de Maggy », 26 October 2011 (consulté le 1er Aout 2018).
  28. ^ RFI, "Marguerite Barankitse, la « Maman nationale » du Burundi", September 2014
  29. ^ UNHCR Burundi Situation, May 2018,
  30. ^ La Vanguardia, "Marguerite Barankitse: "Cuando perdonas, curas el mundo"", February 2017,
  31. ^ RPA, "La Maison Shalom s'étend avec un centre communautaire inauguré à Kigali", May 2017,
  32. ^ The New Times, "Oasis of Peace: Giving Burundian refugees new lease of life", September 2017,
  33. ^ Maison Shalom, "Oasis of Peace (Maison Shalom) – Restoring Burundian refugees' hope and dignity in Rwanda", December 2017,
  34. ^ UNHCR Burundi Situation,
  35. ^ UNHCR Rwanda, "Mahama: Now a Safe Haven for over 50,000 Burundian refugees", September 2016,
  36. ^ Bwiza News, "Kirehe : Le Camp De Réfugiés De Mahama Devenu Une Ville Modèle", Avril 2017,
  37. ^ The Official Twitter handle of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees (MIDIMAR), Tweet of 22nd of June 2018, "Min. @DeBonheurJeanne has inaugurated Mahama Elite Center built by @Maison_Shalom"
  38. ^ Official Facebook Page of Maison Shalom: "Direct Inauguration of the Elite Centre of Maison Shalom at Mahama refugee camp",
  39. ^ Tele Renaissance, "La Maison Shalom a profité de cette occasion pour lancer le "Mahama Elite Centre", 26 June 2018, (6min02)
  40. ^ Gouby, Melanie (8 August 2016). "After rescuing 20,000 Burundian orphans, Marguerite Barankitse forges on in exile". Women in the World in Association with The New York Times – WITW. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  41. ^ file:///Users/sanderson06/Downloads/nl_07.04.pdf
  42. ^ "Laureates – Champions for Faith-Filled Change". Opus Prize. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  43. ^ "$1 million humanitarian award announced in Seattle". Seattle Times. 18 November 2017. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  44. ^ Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg visits Burundi. UNICEF
  45. ^ "La Main Tendue" kümmert sich um Jugendliche in Burundi. In German
  46. ^ "Marguerite Barankitse, Laureate of the 2011 the Fondation Chirac Prize". Fondation Chirac. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  47. ^ "Video: Marguerite Barankitse, 2011 Laureate of the Fondation Chirac Prize". Fondation Chirac. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  48. ^
  49. ^ Finalists Picked for New Prize Created in Memory of Armenian Genocide The New York Times
  50. ^ Marguerite Barankitse – A Calling To Love Aurora Prize

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