Aurora Prize Laureate Marguerite Barankitse in Armenia. Credit: Aurora Prize

PODCAST: The incredible story of Maggy Barankitse, who saved thousands of children in the wake of a genocide

Maggy Barankitse is the founder of Maison Shalom, an orphanage and school that was created in Burundi in the wake of the Civil War there in the 1990s.

Like in neighboring Rwanda, the conflict in Burundi involved acts of genocide pitting ethnic groups against each other.

The conflict came to Barankitse’s town on October 24th, 1993. At the time, she was working as a secretary in the local catholic diocese in her hometown of Ruyigi, Burundi. What happened was an act of unspeakable cruelty. This description of events is from the website of Maison Shalom:

“In the autumn of 1993, an atmosphere of uneasiness had settled over the country. In 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 the diocese buildings.

Maggy was also there. She tried to reason with the group of Tutsi driven mad by hatred. She tried to convince them not to use violence. Her efforts were in vain. To punish her for what they considered a betrayal on the part of a Tutsi “sister”, they decided to strip her and tie her to a chair. They forced her to remain in that position and watch as they first set fire to the diocese building to force those hiding there to come out, then as they mercilessly hacked her friends to death with machetes.”

As she tells me in this podcast episode, it was this experience that lead her to create an oasis of peace and hope in the midst of such conflict and tumult. Today, Maison Shalom has served tens of thousands of children since its founding.

Unfortunately, Maggy now lives as a refugee in Rwanda. She was forced to flee the country after she spoke out against an illegal power-grab by the country’s president. But even from Rwanda, she is continuing her mission and has established a Maison Shalom to serve refugees and others in Rwanda.

For her work, Maggy Barankitse was awarded the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, which is a $1 million prize awarded to individuals who commit extraordinary acts of humanity. The prize is awarded by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, which was founded by the decedents of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide.  A few weeks ago, I spoke with one of the initiative’s co-founders, Noubar Afeyan.

This is a powerful and inspiring conversation with an individual who has helped to save thousands of lives after her own life was shattered by genocide.

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