Maggy Barankitse on why she built what she did

In a short excerpt from a longer interview, the founder and president of Maison Shalom in Burundi explains why she built various parts of Maison Shalom, including schools, homes, a hospital, a movie theater, swimming pool and a morgue.

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,” how she found the courage to create an innovative institution, why she built a morgue, her own struggles with God, the importance of forgiveness, and her view that life is a feast.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Q: So talk with us a little bit about the deeper significance of why it’s important to include all that’s included there.

When I began to teach children, I saw surrounding me that even those children who have parents need to go to school. If I begin to help only orphans go to school, then tomorrow it’s another social conflict. Then I changed; I said, “No, it’s not the correct way.”

And in the town, I saw that people -- Hutus and Tutsis -- can’t go together in the same place and dialogue.

I said, “Tomorrow, another war will begin, because the people are not together. I’ll build a cinema, and then they can talk together; they can watch movies together.”

I said, “That’s how to give opportunities to dream to those people who suffered so much from the war.” And I put in a swimming pool.

But in one day, in 2001, I got 16 babies, newborn, and 16 mothers dying in giving birth. And I said, “No person can repress a mother.”

It’s like that. Love makes us inventors.

And thinking for the whole community -- because children belong to the community -- not to put them in an institution. The institution can’t educate a child. It’s a family; it’s community.

It’s why I build in a holistic way, to put together and to give -- to [shine] this glory of God, because we are created to [shine], in our face, the glory of God.

And we are the builders of hope. We are not just there to feed or to distribute clothes -- no, to distribute dignity and hope.

Q: All that you’ve been able to accomplish would be remarkable for anyone, but for a woman in Burundi, where the limits are much tougher than any of us can imagine here, it took a phenomenal amount of courage. Where does that courage come from?

When you suffer so much, when you watch your brothers killing your other brothers -- Because I am Christian. When you see a mom dying and you are not able to save her, then you think, “And I am Christian!” I said, “God created us, gave us, with our baptism, with our communion, strength with that.”

And courage. Because I love also my country. A country is a mom; you can’t just abandon your mom when she’s suffering.

And I have so many friends. We are one human family, and God sends me many friends to say, “Come, our sister, we are there; we can just be there and show you that you are not alone.”

This -- Maison Shalom -- is not from my hands. I compare Maison Shalom to a ship; the captain is God. I am there, with others, with you. And I am sure that this ship will reach the destination, to say, “We are one family; stand up in dignity and fight without violence, but with love.”

And I am sure love will always take the last word.