I came across another fabulous woman yesterday. The Burundi President has referred to Margueritte “Maggie” Baransitke as the Mother of Burundi and she certainly lives up to that reputation. Likened to Mother Theresa, which she dismisses, she has adopted at least 30,000 children since October 25, 1993. She calls herself an inventor of solutions.
In the midst of an extremely violent ethnic war between the Hutus and Tutsis where 100,000s of people were killed, Maggie and her adopted seven children went to the Bishop’s home for security because some of her children were Hutus. Seventy two, people were already gathered. She hid the 25 children there in cupboards in the Church sanctuary. The Tutsi invaders demanded she tell them where the children were and when she wouldn’t disclose their whereabouts, she was tied up, stripped naked, and one by one all 72 people, including the Bishop, nuns, and others who had come for safety, were executed in front of her, the last, the head of her best friend,thrown in her lap.
Upon releasing herself, she buried all of those people in the days following. She begged and borrowed food and supplies to care for the 25 children, then 50, then 100 and on. On May, 1994, Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph Nduhirubuse donated an old school to be made into a shelter. But Maggie was not content. Always following the path laid out by her God, she built a school because she knew education was the key to getting out of Burundi’s grinding poverty, where the average person earns the equivalent of one dollar a day. She developed shelters and homes for small groups of children in other cities throughout Burundi.
The children are treated with love and respect. When people were ill, and 16 women died in childbirth in one day, she talked the military into building a hospital. When she had troubles with the bank, and was robbed, she opened a bank to service the needs of Maison Shalom, the organization she founded. During the time when she had saved and adopted 20,000 kids, among them child soldiers, garbage dwelling children, Single mothers, Mothers and children with Aids, incarcerated children, she had to flee Burundi under death threats. Many of the children went with her to externally displaced camps.
When able, she and the children returned. The children of Maison Shalom have become extraordinary in their own rights according to the people of Burundi. Many have gone to college, some internationally, then returned to lend their skills to the community as doctors, lawyers, and business entrepreneurs. Maggie gives micro grants to single mothers and women to set up businesses. The loving life of Maison Shalom continues to flourish.
International praise started coming in, recognition for both her achievements and the love which flavored every action she took. In June 2009, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg visited Burundi, stopping to see Maison Shalom for herself. Impressed, she invited Maggie to Luxembourg in October 2011 for a photo exhibition of the Maison Shalom project and has subsequently proffered additional support. In November of 2011 Kofi Annan gave her the Prize for Conflict Resolution. And on April 24, 2016, Maggie was awarded 1.1 million dollars through the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, an award given in memory of the Armenian genocide and presented by Humanitarian George Clooney. Other awards have followed.