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Orphanage Founder ‘Angel Of Burundi’ Gets UN Award


UN Refugee Agency Award Goes To Orphanage Founder ‘Angel Of Burundi’

A much decorated Burundian humanitarian worker will receive the top award of the United Nations refugee agency next month for her work caring for 10,000 children displaced by civil wars in her home country and in neighbouring countries and for recently repatriated Burundians.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said Marguerite Barankitse, a Burundian humanitarian worker and founder of the non-governmental organization Maison Shalom (House of Peace), was to be honoured “for her tireless efforts” as the winner of this year’s Nansen Refugee Award. The prize is given annually to individuals or organizations that have distinguished themselves in work on behalf of refugees.

She will get the award, which is named for the first international refugee official, Polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen of Norway, and which includes a $100,000 grant for a refugee-related project of her choice, at a ceremony on 22 June in Brussels, Belgium.

During the massacre of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Burundi in 1994, she saved many orphaned children in Ruyigi, an eastern town, UNHCR said.

“At the beginning there were 25 children whose parents had been killed, then after one year there were 100, then 500 and now it’s more than 10,000. So I began to look for land, and I thought, ‘Why don’t I use my parents’ land?"” the former teacher in Ruyigi, her hometown, recalled.

She called the new institution Maison Shalom and it provides a home where orphans and children separated from their families, including child soldiers, can grow up in new “families” providing security, education and love. Ms. Barankitse and her team now run four “children's villages” around the country, as well as a centre in the capital Bujumbura.

The children – and returning female-headed families – are taught the principles of health and hygiene, especially HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, how to manage a household and tend to livestock, how to run income-generating projects and how to benefit from apprenticeships. In Ruyigi, they also manage a cinema, a public swimming pool, a restaurant, a hairdressing salon and a guesthouse.

Previous recipients of the award, created in 1954, include the late US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the NGO Médecins sans Frontières, the Russian Federation’s Memorial Human Rights Centre, landmine victims’ Handicap International, the UN Volunteers (UNV), King Juan Carlos of Spain, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands and the late President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.

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