2008 Awards Recipient: $1,000,000
Marguerite “Maggy” Barankitse was witness to an unimaginable event that forever changed her life. On Oct. 24, 1993, Barankitse was working for the Catholic bishop of Ruyigi, in eastern Burundi, Africa, when ethnic Tutsis stormed the bishop's residence, killing 72 Hutus. Amid the chaos and confusion, Barankitse managed to save 25 children and, driven by hope, thoughts of peace and a calling straight from God, set out to provide a safe haven for the youngest survivors of unspeakable violence.
“After the massacre we were trying to flee but we also had to bury the dead,” Barankitse remembers. “There were many of them, and we were scared.”
“I believe it's a mission, it's a vocation. I am full of hope. This is the hand of God at work.”
What began in 1993 as a home for the 25 orphaned children who survived the attack, Maison Shalom—or “House of Peace”—has grown into a multi-functional service agency helping heal and support 30,000 young people and families.
“It's very difficult here because we are in a very, very poor country,” she says. “These people have nothing.”
Only recently emerging from more than 12 years of civil war between the Tutsis and Hutus that left 300,000 dead, Burundi is healing. In order to care for the many children affected by the conflict in Burundi, Barankitse and her team operate “children villages.” These 500 small houses throughout the country, including in the capital of Bujumbura, provide children the support and nurturing they need by reintegrating them with loving families. Early in 2008, Maison Shalom achieved another goal and opened a hospital in Burundi.
The focus of Barankitse's work and Maison Shalom is to change the lives of children and ultimately better the lives of all Burundians. Based on their successful efforts, the model is now spreading, with outreach and aid to children in Rwanda and the Congo currently underway.
“I believe it's a mission, it's a vocation,” Barankitse says. “I am full of hope. This is the hand of God at work.”
Learn more about Barankitse's work with Maison Shalom and visit the Opus Prize foundation website to learn more about the award.