During the brutal Burundi civil war which claimed 300,000 lives, Marguerite Barankitse risked her own to rescue around 30,000 children from persecution. At the outbreak of the 12-year war in 1993, Barankitse — a Tutsi — was forced to watch the execution of 72 of her Hutu neighbors.
That horrific incident inspired her to start a mission at the Catholic diocese where she worked. Caring for children and refugees, she created an environment where young Hutus and Tutsis alike could seek refuge. Her heroic efforts have now been acknowledged by a $1m humanitarian prize. Barankitse, now 59, was presented the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity for her extraordinary efforts in caring for orphans and refugees by Hollywood actor George Clooney.
“Marguerite Barankitse serves as a reminder of the impact that one person can have even when encountering seemingly insurmountable persecution and injustice,” said Clooney, a co-chair of the Aurora Prize selection committee, at the award ceremony in Yerevan, Armenia, last month. Launched this year, the Aurora Prize recognizes exceptional individuals who have preserved human life in the face of adversity, risking freedom, reputations, livelihoods, or even their lives.