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15 / 06 / 2004
Marguerite Barankitse, “The Angel of Burundi”: “People who don't love are failures”

The Forum’s “141 Questions” (37): “Can educating for peace save us from a world with 300,000 child soldiers?” Marguerite Barankitse, promoter and director of “Maison Shalom,” a center that has given shelter to 10,000 orphans from three ethnic groups from Burundi (Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa), states that “my experience shows that educating children for peace can save the world.”

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Today at the Haima Stage, Marguerite Barankitse, a member of an aristocratic ethnic Tutsi family, explained about her life during the last eleven years, from the beginning of the war and the first massacres that gave rise to the assassination of the president elect of Burundi, Melchior Ndadavé, an ethnic Hutu. `Maggy´s´ history is plagued with horrors and atrocities, with death, and suffering. Nonetheless, before telling us about it, she begged the attentive public, “What I am going to explain to you is harsh. Please, forget the atrocities and let the love that has pushed me to say no to death and yes to life stay with you.”

Since 1993, Marguerite Barankitse, “the angel of Burundi” as many call her, has helped more than 10,000 children. Her work focuses on her country, but children have arrived from Ruanda, Congo, and Tanzania, “I travel often. I have buried parents and brought the often mutilated orphans with me,” she said.

‘Maggy’ repeated that “love always triumphs; people who don’t love are failures,” but she admitted that sometimes she gets angry, “AIDS is a factor that shows the hypocrisy that exists in the world; they say that there is no money to fight it, but, on the other hand, there is money to finance the war.” She said that the main problem, what hurts the most, is that “I think people don’t understand me; they think of me as Utopian when I condemn all the money that is squandered to make war.”

Marguerite Barankitse accused the government of her country of devoting over 60% of the national budget to the army and only 2% to education. “This is ridiculuous. The leaders do not care about the country,” she stated. She also regretted the fact that “if a kidnapping occurs in Europe, everybody talks about it. In my country, on the contrary, apparently only flies die, because the media does not report people’s deaths. Burundi is one of the three poorest countries in the world. It has 14,000 child soldiers, 5,000 street children, and 700,000 orphaned children. “It is shameful for humanity,” she he concluded.

Barankitse does not know the meaning of dejection. She started by helping out seven children, three Tutsis and four Hutus. She escaped with them from the barbarous killings by taking shelter in the chapel where they were joined by a group of Hutus; until they were found. She faced the Tutsis to stop the massacre, but she was beaten and tied up. Nonetheless, she managed to save 25 children but all the adults died when the attackers set fire to the building.

“The death of a Tutsi mother made me take the decision of looking after the children . She was beheaded when she chose to remain with her husband, a Hutu; she gave me her eight-month old child so that I should raise her up,” she remembered.

Barankitse is very well known for her work, for which no measure of support is enough: “Very early we learned how to manage; love is a source of ingenuity.” She has developed her work in Burundi on a day-to-day basis, without any big structures. Nowadays Marguerite Barankitse is a well known personality with great recognition in the world: “Not long ago, the city of Merida gave us 64,000 euros to buy milk for babies with HIV.” She was recently awarded the prize from the children of the world, also known as the Children’s Nobel Prize. In 1998 she was awarded the French government’s Human Rights Prize, and in 2003 she was awarded the Second Prize Juan María Bandrés for asylum rights advocates.