Catholic humanitarian Marguerite Barankitse saved thousands of lives during Burundi's civil war back in the 1990s by opening up an orphanage. She took in children who have lost their parents as a result of the war and provided them not only with food and shelter but also love.
Decades later, she was rewarded on Sunday with a $1.1 million humanitarian award through the inaugural Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, which was presented by Hollywood actor and Aurora Prize Selection Committee Co-Chair George Clooney in Yerevan, Armenia.
"Marguerite Barankitse serves as a reminder of the impact that one person can have even when encountering seemingly insurmountable persecution and injustice," Clooney said in a statement to Reuters.
"By recognising Marguerite Barankitse's courage, commitment and sacrifice, I am hopeful that she can also inspire each one of us to think about what we can do to stand up on behalf of those whose rights are abused and are in most need of our solidarity or support," he added.
Meanwhile, Barankitse told the Catholic News Service that she founded the Maison Shalom (the house of peace) orphanage in Eastern Burundi after she saw several of her loved ones killed before her. Despite the fear she felt then, Barankitse said her faith in God sustained her.
"I had my (Catholic) faith and I kept hearing the Lord's message, and it was 'Do not be afraid, I am with you,'" she shared. "If God had not been with me, I would have probably tried to take my own life. We need to support each other as a human family, and to say 'never again!'"
Barankitse lamented that tyrants still exist in the 21st century, and she is encouraging concerned individuals to "take appropriate measures" and make sure that the dictators who are so used to oppressing people are dealt with.
An estimated 250,000 individuals lost their lives due to the conflict in Burundi from 1962 to 1993. Within that period, there were two declared genocides. The first was in 1972 when the Tutsi-dominated army committed a mass killing of Hutus. The second genocide took place in 1993 when the Hutu majority committed a mass killing of Tutsis.