Update: In June 2015, Maggy Barankitse was forced to flee Burundi and find refuge in Rwanda after participating in political protests. She continues her work in exile and has built Maison Shalom Rwanda and the Oasis of Peace, a community center for refugees and the surrounding community. She also created the Mahama Elite Center in Rwanda, which works in conjunction with the Mahama Refugee Camp to give refugees, especially children, the care and resources they need. Barankitse serves as chair of the board of directors of Maison Shalom International.
Marguerite “Maggy” Barankitse is a humanitarian who created Maison Shalom -- House of Peace -- out of the carnage of the Burundian genocide. In nearly 20 years of existence, Maison Shalom has grown to include schools, a hospital, agricultural cooperatives, a microfinance system and other projects.
Maison Shalom began after Barankitse saved 25 children orphaned in a horrific night of mass killing during the civil war between Tutsi and Hutu tribes.
But she has always been clear that her mission is not to build an orphanage or even to help children but rather to help raise them in God’s love and to create a new generation that will break the cycle of violence in her country. The mission of Maison Shalom has expanded to the communities in which the children live, and its holistic initiatives seek to improve the lives of all people.
Barankitse has received many honors, including the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award, the Opus Prize and the Fondation Chirac Prize for Conflict Prevention. Barankitse received an honorary degree from Duke University at its commencement ceremony in May 2013, when she also spoke at Duke Divinity School.
While on campus, Barankitse was interviewed by journalist David Crabtree about her work with Maison Shalom. Their conversation is presented in a 20-minute video.
Excerpts from that same interview can also be viewed by topic in a series of short video clips. In them, she talks about her phrase “Love made me an inventor,” why she built what she did at Maison Shalom, how she found the courage to create an innovative institution, why she built a morgue, the importance of forgiveness, and her view that life is a feast.
The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Q: Because of all you have seen, do you ever -- or have you ever doubted your vision? Have you struggled with God following these tragedies?
Of course. The first day, after seeing my friend die, and all those killers that I know -- because among those killers were also my family [members], some of my cousins -- I went in the chapel and I said, “Oh God, my mom lied to me, because she taught me that you are love. How can you create -- how can I belong to those killers? I don’t believe that you are love.”
And when I was crying, I heard the voice of my first adoptive child, Chloe, who said, “No, she didn’t lie to you. We’re still in life; we are there.” This was the first miracle, and then I saw that God was love.
But in 1996 I crashed, because, again, they killed so many people. And I went to see them. So many mothers -- I found those bodies. I took many children, mutilated children, and one without a mouth.
And I wanted, with my own forces, to do something. And I lost my voice. Then I decided to break this, and I went to pray for one month.
After that I decided to be humble, and to say, “It’s not me; it’s the hand of God.” And I prayed, “Oh God, you are God and I am a little instrument. Give me enough strength to go and to [shine] your glory. Not me but you.”