Activist Maggie Barankits: I Saved Children From Genocide In Burundi

A life 2023

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Activist Maggie Barankits: I Saved Children From Genocide In Burundi
Activist Maggie Barankits: I Saved Children From Genocide In Burundi
Video: Activist Maggie Barankits: I Saved Children From Genocide In Burundi
Video: Maggy Barankitse: \"Political genocide in Burundi\" 2023, February

Natasha Fedorenko

We know a lot about the problems of Europe and the USA, while African countries remain in the shadows, local activists see this as a big problem. In the mid-nineties in Rwanda and Burundi, at least 800,000 people were killed in massacres. One indigenous population killed another: the Hutus were exterminated by the Tutsis, and the latter, of course, offered armed resistance. One of the notable heroines of that time in Burundi was Maggie Barankits - she managed to save twenty-five children from the massacre, and later helped thirty thousand people to survive, get medical care and find work thanks to the "House of Shalom" project. The genocide is over, but now Maggie is on the run again: due to the difficult political situation in Burundi, she had to leave for Rwanda. We talked with Barankits and learned how she managed to survive the murders of her own relatives, who helped her save the children, and why she is considered a criminal in her home country.

My place is in Burundi

The genocide in Burundi began in 1993, when I was thirty-seven years old. Before that, I had time to study in Switzerland, live in France, work as a teacher, serve in the Catholic Church and adopt seven children. I always wanted to help people, but only during these terrible events did it become clear that I have a purpose. During the genocide, dozens of my relatives were killed - there was almost no hope. Sometimes it seems to me that if I were not a Christian, I would have committed suicide. At the same time, I realized that I had a rare opportunity to leave, abandoning my identity, but I did not.

When the criminals killed my biological family, I decided not to hate, but to protect others. It was hard - before my eyes, seventy people were destroyed, whom I tried to hide in the church. But twenty-five children were saved - it was they and seven more of my adopted children who created the house, which later became known as "House Shalom". It was madness to take them under responsibility: I had no food, no medicine, no money. We walked, and the children themselves did not understand where we were going and where we could hide. Then one little boy Fabrice offered to go to my friend from Germany Martin. Fabrice offered to write to him in German (I taught him a little in Switzerland) so that no one would know about our plans. We took refuge with Martin, and I hoped that the situation would soon improve, but in the end we stayed with him for seven months. He suggested that I leave for Germany, but even then I realized that my place was in Burundi.

House Shalom

First aid to "House Shalom" came, of course, from Germany. Martin returned there and arranged for us to supply food and essentials, Caritas Germany helped with the car, the local Catholic Church gave us the opportunity to rebuild the destroyed school, and a lot of help came from Switzerland and France, where I had friends. Together with my brother, we began to spread information about our project through journalists. As a result, UN representatives from New York, Queen of Luxembourg came to visit us. The last major aid came from the Aurora humanitarian initiative in Armenia in 2016 - I became a laureate of a $ 1 million prize, which I donated to local charities.

The money was coming in, and we were expanding Dom Shalom. In Burundi, we have established a microfinance bank, hospital, schools, special education institutions, cooperatives and a cinema. Dom Shalom earned money and could cover many of its needs without outside help.

Large organizations like UNICEF have a hard time working on the ground - it's a huge structure with a complex mechanism. We could provide targeted assistance.We were approached by completely different people - from orphans with HIV, women survivors of rape, to former military men who decided not to participate in hostilities anymore. They all needed different things. For example, the former military needed a home and a stable job in order not to start killing again. But they all had one thing in common - the need for education and independence. We issued microcredits for business, helped to enter universities. Why are people leaving? Because no one helps and does not give them jobs and social guarantees at home. It is interesting that almost none of those who studied abroad stayed there - my children returned because they knew where they could apply their skills and knowledge.

Flight to Rwanda

If the country has a corrupt and embittered government, it is very difficult to do good things. You build - they destroy. In 2015, Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza was elected to a third term in violation of the constitution. Young people all over the country opposed - in response they began to disappear, they were killed, the number of political prisoners in the country increased sharply. International organizations did not have the opportunity to work well in Burundi, so we still do not know the number of dead and missing protesters. When I came out in support of them, they began to threaten me, so I soon had to leave the country. Later I found out that the president had put me on the international wanted list.

Because of this, I had to move my projects to Rwanda, one of the few African countries where a democratic government was established. Rwanda also experienced genocide, but made the right conclusions, unlike Burundi. A huge number of people fled from the latter, because the country has turned into a prison - and now I help refugees.

Now I am running the Oasis of Peace refugee shelter in Rwanda and I try to give people just shelter - it is important to always remember that these are people like us, who simply fell into terrible circumstances. Just like everyone else, they want to be independent and develop. At the Oasis of Peace, we try to offer refugees study and work: we teach how to cook, sew, draw, work on computers, helped three hundred people return to universities. We have our own restaurant where you can work, someone opens their own business. Now we need money again because we are cut off from Rwanda, but I am sure that love, not hate, will have the last word.

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