Burundi ‘angel’ receives prize

03 Dec 2008

By The Record

Opus Prize awarded to woman who helps child victims of war in Burundi.                

Friend of children: Seattle University and the Opus Prize Foundation on November 18 awarded the $1 million Opus Prize to Marguerite “Maggy” Barankitse for her work providing safe havens to 30,000 child victims of ethnic strife in the African country of Burundi. Courtesy of Opus Prize/CNS.





























SEATTLE (CNS) – A Catholic woman who has provided a safe haven for child victims of ethnic strife in Burundi has received the $1 million Opus Prize, billed as the world’s largest humanitarian award for social innovation.
Marguerite “Maggy” Barankitse received the honor on November 18 from Jesuit-run Seattle University and the Opus Prize Foundation.
Barankitse founded Maison Shalom in 1993 as a home for 25 children orphaned after a violent attack by ethnic Tutsis. It was the first year of a civil war between the Hutus and the Tutsis that would last 12 years.
Burundi continues to recover from the war, which claimed more than 300,000 lives. A half-million people were displaced internally and at least another half-million were driven from the country, according to estimates.
Barankitse’s organisation has grown into a multiservice agency which runs 500 small houses where children are nurtured and supported so they can be reintegrated into loving families. Maison Shalom also recently opened a hospital.
Seattle University and the foundation also announced two winners of $100,000 prizes: Michael Woodard, founder of Jubilee House Community and Centre for the Development of Central America, and Krishnammal Jagannathan, founder of Land for Tillers’ Freedom.
Woodward has spent 15 years helping people in Nicaragua become self-sufficient and escape poverty. Jagannathan has spent 40 years fighting for land rights and the self-empowerment of women in Tamil Nadu, India.
“Seattle University is clear about its mission: empowering leaders for a just and humane world,” Jesuit Father Stephen Sundborg, university president, said in a statement. “Bringing these unsung heroes to our campus is a great opportunity to honor their work and provide our students an incredible educational experience by meeting inspiring individuals.”
“Something is coming about from our students being global citizens and reaching out across the world to reach other people,” he added. “My vision is that our students learn their own humanity through knowing more of humanity.”
The Opus Prize is a faith-based humanitarian grant awarded annually to an individual or organisation of any religious background, anywhere in the world. Recipients must demonstrate a pioneering approach to solving the root cause of social problems in their community.
The prize is awarded by the Opus Prize Foundation through a partnership with a university or college “as a way to inspire lives of service,” according to a news release.
The foundation is a philanthropic organisation created by the Opus Group, a national real estate development company with headquarters in Minneapolis and offices across the country.
“We are thrilled to be recognising and supporting three amazing entrepreneurs for their transforming, faith-driven work throughout the world,” said Amy Sunderland, the foundation’s executive director. “These individuals show us that change is possible. They are an inspiration to us all.”
The news release said Barankitse’s work has allowed former child soldiers, street children and those made orphans by the war to learn to live together and to learn a skill so they can earn a living.
About Woodard, it said he has “reinvigorated lagging economies” in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, and surrounding areas through education, microcredit, agriculture and technology initiatives.
Jagannathan, it added, has elevated the social status and acceptance of “dalits,” or members of low castes – through housing and farmland provisions and negotiated land subsidies with the Indian government.