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Barankitse wins $1 million Opus Prize

Seattle University announced this morning that Marguerite “Maggie” Barankitse is this year’s recipient of the $1 million Opus Prize humanitarian award.

“I know now the train is in motion,” Barankitse told The Spectator after learning she had won the prize. “The train is in motion…no one can stop it.”

Barankitse said she will use the $1 million prize to build a hospital for young children without parents.

The Opus Prize was established in 2003 by the Opus Group, a real estate development company. The first award was given in 2004. The foundation gives the award in conjunction with universities in the U.S.

Seattle U was chosen by the Opus Prize Foundation to aid in giving the humanitarian award, one of the world’s largest, because of its social justice focus.

Just to be counted among these extraordinary people’s equals is truly amazing. – Michael Woodard

“I think that there is a real connection with [Seattle U’s] mission [and the Opus Prize Foundation’s mission], where the university is about preparing people for lives of productive work and engagement in the world,” said Amy Sunderland, executive director for the Opus Prize Foundation.

Barankitse was selected after an 18-month process that narrowed 22 candidates chosen by “spotters” to three finalists. The final grant recipient was chosen by the Opus Prize Foundation, after Seattle U nominated the three finalists.

Michael Woodard and Krishnammal Jagannathan were selected as finalists along with Barankitse. Both will receive $100,000 awards.

“I’ve already spent the money a dozen times,” said Woodard, whose organization works for sustainable and fair trade agriculture in Nicaragua, after the announcement.

“But just to be counted among these extraordinary people’s equals is truly amazing,” he added.

Barankitse founded Maison Shalom, meaning House of Peace, after witnessing the killing of 72 people in the African nation of Burundi in 1993. The organization consists of 500 households throughout the country in which orphaned children live together.

Joe Orlando, Seattle U assistant vice president for Mission and Ministry, visited Burundi over the summer to examine Barankitse’s organization.

Orlando said a library, a small swimming pool and a cinema help provide the children Maison Shalom serves with a sense of normalcy and stability they lack in their lives. Burundi is in the midst of a civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi rebel groups in which 200,000 people have been killed since October 1993, according to the C.I.A.

I said I would like to have $10 million—I have more than 50,000 children—and then I could help them all. – Marguerite Barankitse

Orlando told The Spectator earlier this month he’ll never be able to forget “Maggie” and her work.

“I’m going to always feel really changed by this process,” he said. “Having met her, I have a deep appreciation for the really inspirational work she’s doing there.”

Barankitse danced and clapped after receiving the award but also said the prize is just a start.

“I said I would like to have $10 million—I have more than 50,000 children—and then I could help them all,” she said.

The Opus Prize will be formally awarded tonight at Benaroya Hall. The ceremony starts at 7:30 p.m., but buses will be available to take students, faculty and staff to the event starting at 5:30 p.m. The event is sold out, according to a statement.