Meeting with Maguy Barankitse who inaugurates the school of his Shalom house

Meeting with Maguy Barankitse who inaugurates the school of his Shalom house

ign=”left”>Marguerite Barankitse, wide smile, warm look, counts down the days before the inauguration of the new school that she built in the heart of a refugee camp in Rwanda, the Sainte-Anne school in Kigali. The “lady in red”, as some call her for her usual colorful outfits, is an icon in East Africa. The Burundians, his country of origin, but also the Rwandans and the Congolese have immense respect for him for his fight in favor of the most deprived and more particularly children. For the construction of his Shalom house, which welcomes children and refugees.

“Sometimes I feel tired, but if I see a child who is suffering, I forget everything. I’m going back into battle”, smiles the one who has just overcome cancer and who will, this October 24, officially inaugurate her new school. “It’s a preschool and primary school, but we’re going to grow. It meets all international standards. I want the best for my children. The director of the establishment is Belgian and three teachers also come from Belgium. »

The establishment will accommodate 50% refugee children from Burundi or the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also Rwandans. “I want this mixing, this mix between children of more modest origins and those who are more advantaged. I want them all to be on equal footing. They will rub shoulders at school, in the canteen, on school transport. We have to break down the barriers,” continues Maguy, who has received distinctions all over the world for his fight.

“Nothing can bring me down”

“These prizes allow me to open doors, this is the greatest advantage of these decorations”, she blurted with a huge smile.

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She started her fight when she was 24 years old. “Another massacre in Burundi. I adopted seven children without being married, without worrying about whether they were Tutsi or Hutu. » No question for Maguy of playing the ethnic card in a region where the stigmatization, or even the elimination of the other, often serves as the main political program. “ When I adopted my first children, I wanted to light a little candle in the midst of the darkness of morbid hatred. I wanted to stand up to the leaders of my country. I didn’t want to get into their logic. »

By opposing these segregation policies, she made a name for herself, but she also built strong enmities in the Burundian political class. In 2014, a few months before President Nkurunziza stormed to win a third unconstitutional term, Maguy became angry with those in power when a police officer shot and killed a teenager. She did not hesitate to return all the decorations received from the hands of the President of the Burundian Republic. “ I admit that I lied so I could have an interview with the President. When we found ourselves in the same room, I told him that if he continued like this, Burundi would be destroyed. It was the middle of Lent, March 11, 2014.” The President will not forgive him. A few months later, after she opened a large center to welcome children with the support of Unicef, she was warned that she was under death threat. She receives an SMS which warns her: “ We have orders to kill you. » She is forced to flee. She will find refuge at the Belgian embassy and will use all her contacts, in particular a strong relationship that she has built with the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg.

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“The authorities have issued an arrest warrant against me. I couldn’t stay at the embassy, ​​so I put on makeup, a blonde wig and rushed to the airport. Everyone was in on the scheme. The SN flight took me on board at the last minute. I was safe, but I had to leave everything behind me. »

Everything has to start again

Thousands of Burundians are thrown onto the road to exile. “ Many ended up in Rwanda. So I left there. I took up my pilgrim’s staff again to go find funds to rebuild everything. I have been able to count on Belgian and Luxembourg institutions which have always helped me. Others came too. You know over the years I’ve been able to travel, I’ve met presidents, kings, three popes, no one impresses me. I lost dozens of family members. I was tied up while my loved ones were killed in front of my eyes. I have seen hell and I have been around palaces. But I will never give up. They will not silence me, they will not arrest me. Nothing can stop love. As long as a life is in danger I will stand up, she continues.

In Rwanda, everything had to be redone. “ Land was bought to allow refugees to farm, eat and trade. They are not beggars. I have been working with refugees for forty years, they are talented people. Look at my outfit, they made it. They also make uniforms for the school. They can be an economic contribution to their host country. They should not be treated like disabled people. You have to let them develop. Here, we are wrong in the way we welcome them. »