Maggy Barankitse on life as a feast

In a short excerpt from a longer interview, the founder and president of Maison Shalom in Burundi explains why, after all the killing she has seen, she wakes up every day thanking God for life.

Marguerite “Maggy” Barankitse is a humanitarian who created Maison Shalom -- House of Peace -- out of the carnage of the Burundian genocide. In nearly 20 years of existence, Maison Shalom has grown to include schools, a hospital, agricultural cooperatives, a microfinance system and other projects.

Maison Shalom began after Barankitse saved 25 children orphaned in a horrific night of mass killing during the civil war between Tutsi and Hutu tribes.

But she has always been clear that her mission is not to build an orphanage or even to help children but rather to help raise them in God’s love and to create a new generation that will break the cycle of violence in her country. The mission of Maison Shalom has expanded to the communities in which the children live, and its holistic initiatives seek to improve the lives of all people.

Barankitse has received many honors, including the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award, the Opus Prize and the Fondation Chirac Prize for Conflict Prevention. Barankitse received an honorary degree from Duke University at its commencement ceremony in May 2013, when she also spoke at Duke Divinity School.

While on campus, Barankitse was interviewed by journalist David Crabtree about her work with Maison Shalom. Their conversation is presented in a 20-minute video.

Excerpts from that same interview can also be viewed by topic in a series of short video clips. In them, she talks about her phrase “Love made me an inventor,” why she built what she did at Maison Shalom, how she found the courage to create an innovative institution, why she built a morgue, her own struggles with God, and the importance of forgiveness.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Q: But do you realize how bright your light is with that smile?

I realize how dark I can be, because you think -- when you really love God, you realize what you didn’t do in the day, and you say, “Oh, I must correct this.”

And for me, I have suffered so much, I love life. For me, when I wake up, I say, “Wow, another day. Thanks to God for giving me another day to [shine] this glory of God. Thank you for giving me life.”

Life is a feast. Why wouldn’t we want to celebrate this feast together? Because if you want to celebrate a feast, you can’t be alone. You must invite your friends, the other; then it will become a feast.

If you celebrate the feast alone, it’s not a feast.