Fashion show for children, fashion design, organic permaculture gardens, the Centre Elite with its well-stocked library, a foreign language training centre, website designers and tailors. And all around, gardens, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, small houses on the site built by the refugees themselves, with small recently planted parks.
These are only some of the activities that are organised at the Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda, where more than 60,000 Burundian refugees live and work. It is one of the many places where Maison Shalom, an NGO founded by Maggy Batankitse 25 years ago, rolls out its innovative approach to humanitarian crisis resolution.
Unlike the refugee camps we see on television and on the social media, Mahama is a centre of opportunities where citizens of all social classes, forced into exile by the Burundian dictatorship, are given a helping hand to restore the dignity of daily life.
This philosophy towards humanitarian work looks beyond the degrading circumstances generally associated with refugees who are "discarded" in a camp, and lays the foundation for restoring the dignity and self-esteem of individuals and families. An ongoing project that aims to serve as a model for transforming refugee camps around the world.
The Rwandan capital, Kigali, is currently hosting more than 200 people who support Maggy Barankitse's projects around the world who have come to meet the inhabitants of the Burundian diaspora and representatives of Rwandan civil society and administration who are pursuing a commendable policy of welcoming and collaborating with international institutions (UNHCR, UNICEF and many others).
Humanitarian workers, benefactors, entrepreneurs, academics and ordinary citizens who support the most fragile members of society “at home”, have gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Maison Shalom and express their gratitude to Maggy Barankitse, an extraordinary woman who does not shy away from tackling the many humanitarian tragedies that have plunged the Great Lakes region into bloodshed, from the civil war that devastated Burundi in 1993 to forced exile in recent years.