Marguerite Barankitse, better known by her nickname « Maggy», has always lived a life out of the ordinary.
Born in Ruyigi in 1956, she lost her father at the age of six. Her mother, who was then only 24 years old, did not remarry, and dedicated her life to taking care of Maggy and her brother, Apollinaire. Along with her mother and brother, Maggy grew up with her extended family, and eight children adopted by her mother. This way of living, in a spirit of sharing, since her childhood, has accompanied Maggy throughout her life.
Maggy studied to become a teacher. She went on to study theology for three years in Lourdes (France). When she returned to Burundi, she taught French in a secondary school in Ruyigi, and tutored students after class. Aged only 23, Maggy adopted one of her students, Chloe, who had been orphaned for a long t time. In the years to come, Maggy welcomed four other children in her home. She raised them as if they had always been part of her family, without ethnic distinction.
After studying administration in Switzerland at the end of the 1980s, Maggy returned to Ruyigi, and started working as the secretary to the bishop, a position which she continued to hold until 24 October 1993.
24 October 1993: Chaos in Ruyigi
In October 1993, Burundi was in tension. In Ruyigi, chaos struck on 24 October. Maggy was forced to powerlessly witness the massacre of 72 people who were hidden with her in the diocese. The violence was brutal, but Maggy managed to convince the killers to spare 25 children.
Maggy then found refuge in the house of Mr Martin, a German development worker living in Ruyigi. She would spend the next 7 months there; thinking about what would the next step for the children, who were still with her. The civil war got s increasingly violent and more and more children appeared daily at the door steps of Mr Martin’s house.
In this general chaos, the news spread quickly. The news of a woman who dared to take care of all the orphans knocking at her door: Hutus, Tutsi, Twas, Congolese, Rwandese. Maggy made no distinction. Maggy and her children survived thanks to the donations and support of the bishops of Ruyigi and Burundi. International NGOs such as Doctors without Borders, Action Aid, Caritas International and “Secours Catholique”, who were present in Burundi and a growing number of friends from Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, France, Luxembourg also assisted.
The birth of Maison Shalom
Faced with this situation, Maggy realised that her mission would be to fight against the hate and indifference which were ravaging the Great Lakes region, giving to her children, and to the 47,000 who would follow, an alternative to hate: it will be a home of peace and love, where the life of each and every human, and their dignity, will be respected. It will be « Maison Shalom ».