Burundi Activist Wins Inaugural Aurora Prize for Saving 30,000 Children
Burundian activist Marguerite Barankitse, who provided humanitarian aid during years of bloody civil war, became the inaugural recipient of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity late last month. The award recognizes the extraordinary impact of Barankitse’s work caring for orphans and refugees during the war in Burundi, in which she is credited with saving the lives of some 30,000 children.
The Republic of Burundi, a landlocked country of some 11 million people in Central Africa, is one of the poorest nations in the world. It has grappled with tensions between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority since achieving independence in 1962. Today, Burundi is still struggling to recover from a devastating 12-year civil war sparked in 1993 by political and ethnic divisions that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 300,000 people.
At the beginning of the civil war, Barankitse, an ethnic Tutsi, attempted to hide 72 of her Hutu neighbors in the Catholic diocese where she worked during a wave of sectarian violence. However, all 72 were discovered by Tutsi militiamen and executed before her eyes. Barankitse subsequently devoted her life to caring for children and refugees, setting up Maison Shalom (House of Peace) as a refuge for orphans. In 2008, she founded REMA Hospital in Burundi, where 80,000 people so far have received medical care.
The recognition of her work comes at a time of renewed tension in Burundi, which last year forced Barankitse, an outspoken critic of the Burundi government, to flee across the border to Rwanda. Maison Shalom is now closed because of mounting violence, but Barankitse continues to work with refugee children in Rwanda.
Barankitse, affectionately known as Maggie, plans to donate the US$1 million award to three organizations that provide aid and rehabilitation for child refugees and orphans and fight child poverty: the Fondation du Grand-Duc et de La Grande-Duchesse in Luxembourg, the Fondation Jean-François Peterbroeck (JFP Foundation) in Brussels, and the Fondation Bridderlech Deelen in Luxembourg.
Accepting the award from Oscar-winning actor and humanitarian George Clooney, who was co-chair of the selection committee, Barankitse said. “Our values are human values. When you have compassion, dignity, and love then nothing can scare you; nothing can stop you. No one can stop love—not armies, not hate, not persecution, not famine, nothing. This prize is consolation for the whole of Burundi’s people.” (CNN)
The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity is a humanitarian award established to memorialize the victims of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Aurora Prize laureates receive a US$100,000 grant and are able to nominate charities or organizations that have inspired their work for an award of US$1 million. The prize is to be awarded annually on 24 April in the Armenian capital Yerevan. The other finalists for the 2016 prize were Dr. Tom Catena, the sole physician at Mother of Mercy Hospital in Sudan; Syeda Ghulam Fatima, the general secretary of the Bonded Labor Liberation Front in Pakistan; and Father Bernard Kinvi, who provided humanitarian aid during the civil war in the Central African Republic.
$1m prize for heroic Burundi woman who saved 30,000 children from war (CNN)
Aurora Prize: Burundi activist wins inaugural award in memory of Armenian Genocide victims (ArmeniaNow.com)
Burundi: Humanitarian worker Marguerite Barankitse presented $1.1m prize by George Clooney (International Business Times)
Aurora Prize For Awakening Humanity