( The Guardian)
Marguerite Barankitse awarded inaugural Aurora prize and heralded by George Clooney for her actions during civil war
Marguerite Barankitse accepts the inaugural Aurora prize from George Clooney, right, and Ruben Vardanyan, co-founder of the prize, at the presentation ceremony in Yerevan, Armenia. Photograph: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Sunday 24 April 201619.56 BSTLast modified on Sunday 24 April 201620.22 BST
A woman who acted as a “mother to all children” during the Burundi civil war has been recognised for her actions by George Clooney with a $1m (£700,000) humanitarian prize.
Marguerite Barankitse, who saved the lives of 30,000 children during the conflict, was handed the inaugural Aurora prize by the actor at a ceremony in Yerevan, Armenia. She was personally given $100,000 (£70,000) and awarded a $1m grant to donate to a charity or organisation that has inspired her.
Barankitse, 59, known as Maggie, was heralded as “extraordinary” by Clooney, who said all the finalists were people who “make the world a better place”.
She helped children who were left orphans during the civil war in Burundibetween the Tutsiand Hutu populations. At the height of the war in 1993, Barankitse, a Tutsi, sheltered a group of Hutus at the Catholic diocese where she worked.
Desperately overcrowded camps: Burundian refugees in Tanzania – in
The actor said Barankitse served as a “reminder of the impact that one person can have even when encountering seemingly insurmountable persecution and injustice”.
He added: “By recognising Marguerite’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.”
Barankitse said she would use the grant to further her work in the region, at a time when violence has erupted in Burundi once more. Last year she was forced to flee again to Rwanda, but she said she remained positive. “I am a very optimistic person and my dreams remain my dreams. When you have these values of compassion, nothing can stop you.”
Barankitse called on the international community to stand with her over the current crisis and said she would travel to the Netherlands to protest and demonstrate at The Hague.
Among the finalists for the Aurora prize was an American doctor, Tom Catena, the only permanent surgeon responsible for more than half a million people in Sudan’s conflicted border area with South Sudan.
Also nominated was Syeda Ghulam Fatima, a Pakistani activist who survived attempts on her life during her campaign to liberate bonded labourers, and Father Bernard Kinvi, a Togolese priest providing refuge to both sides of a civil war in the Central African Republic.
Clooney, who is visiting Armenia for the first time, earlier joined the president, Serzh Sargsyan, in a solemn memorial service remembering the events of 1915, when Armenia claims the Ottoman Empire killed 1.5 million of its people. Turkey strongly disputes claims that the events were a genocide and the figures stated.
During the prize ceremony, Clooney called for the world to recognise the “Armenian genocide”.