Humanitarian speaks on her work in response to genocide in home country
Natalie Weber | Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Occassionally referred to as “The Mother Teresa of Africa,” Marguerite Barankitse spoke on Monday on her humanitarian work, sparked in response to a genocide she witnessed in her native country, Burundi. Fr. Emmanuel Katongole, associate professor of theology and peace studies, interviewed Barankitse in a lecture titled “Love Has Made Me an Inventor.”
According to Barankitse, a Hutu politician arranged for the murder of several of her family members due to social conflict between Hutus and Tutsis; her family members being Tutsis. She lost 60 percent of her family to the massacre that day and a few days later, Barankitse, a Tutsi herself, took refuge at her bishop’s house with a group of both Hutus and Tutsis. However, a group of Tutsis came to take revenge on the Hutus for the killings from a few days before.
“Hutu and Tutsi were together but they came to [take] revenge,” she said. “But I said to them ‘Why do you [take] revenge [on] these mothers and fathers and children who are here? They didn’t kill.’”
Barankitse was tied down by her fellow Tutsis and forced to watch as they killed Hutus who were hiding in the bishop’s buildings. She said this experience inspired her to want to bring change and peace to the world.
“ … That was why I wanted to create a new generation,” she said. “When I was there, watching, I couldn’t stop them. I knew all the killers. Some of them were members of my family and they killed my friends.”
Barankitse started an organization called Maison Shalom, a home for orphaned children. In addition to functioning as a living community, the home featured a school, businesses run by the children, a swimming pool and a cinema.
The swimming pool was built as sort of a “revenge” against the military, Barankitse said. After buying land for the construction of the pool, the Minister of Defense opposed her decision to use the area. The reason for his opposition was that the military had put the bodies of their massacre victims on the land.
However, she decided to build the pool despite this and invited military members to join her in clearing the land and swimming in the newly built pool.
“At first, I invited the military to come, and we swam together and we cleaned our land … ” Barankitse said. “I put a cinema, I put a library there and also a hall for waiting for friends to celebrate and to turn the page together.
“This was … because I want to show that it’s possible … where there was much death, I wanted to put much life and celebrate together — perpetrators and victims together. ”
Though she said she experiences anger at the injustices perpetrated throughout the world, Barankitse retains hope in God’s love.
“To see, since I was young, to repeat always this war—massacres in Rwanda, massacres in Uganda—it’s a shame,” she said. “And then I feel in my heart a holy anger, but I am not bitter. Because I know that I will win. I know that love will win. We pass, but God is an eternal love.”
Eventually exiled from Burundi by a government who tried to assassinate her, Barankitse moved to Rwanda where she started a community center to help victims of mass atrocities heal.
“I said ‘Oh God. I know that you give me … my mission. I went in the refugee camp. I have seen miserable, tortured children, raped women,’” she said. “Then I said ‘we are builders of hope.’ I decided to [build] a community center I called ‘Oasis of Peace’ where people can come and express their suffering.”
Barankitse was also able to help students earn an education, she said.
“I [have] sent more than 400 young students to the university in Rwanda and 10 in France … “ she said. “I want to create a community center where Rwandans, Congonese and Burundians will celebrate the victory of the love over hatred.”
Barankitse said the most powerful and important force in life was love.
“The treasure we have it’s not houses, it’s not car[s], it’s our capacity to love,” she said. “ … With love, you can change the world. But with money, I don’t know.
“If you have no love, even [if] they give you the money, will you buy drug[s]? Weapons? You will destroy. But if you have love and they give you even one hundred dollars, then you [can] change the life of people.”