virunga-emmanuel-de-merode-1_78793_990x742 copy“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
-Winston Churchill

Last Tuesday night, Laren and I were about to sit down and have dinner when he got a call from his partner, Shannon. I could tell there was something wrong by the look on his face. And when the phone call ended, he quietly said something I definitely wasn’t expecting to hear: “Emmanuel has been shot.”

Emmanuel de Merode, the Director of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is perhaps one of the most inspiring individuals that I’ve had the change to meet, befriend and learn from. He is a conservationist, anthropologist, and humanitarian of the highest order. Since 2008 he has worked tirelessly, at times in danger of his life, to protect Virunga, a 7800 square kilometer World Heritage Site. It is the oldest, most beautiful and most diverse park on the African continent that boasts savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, forests, active volcanoes and the ice fields of the Rwenzori Mountains.  The park provides a home to numerous species of wildlife, including 200 of the worlds critically endangered mountain gorillas and a small population of eastern lowland gorillas. Virunga’s projects, which span from gorilla and wildlife protection to supporting the widows and children of Virunga rangers that have been killed in the line of duty, are admirable and so important.

rangers-virunga Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

My husband has been involved in Virunga’s projects through his work with Bridgeway Foundation. He’s visited the park a handful of times, even having the opportunity to climb its active volcano and camp at the top for the evening. Needless to say, Emmanuel has become a dear friend and a personal hero to Laren. After hearing that Emmanuel was badly injured, Laren flew to DRC to visit the hospital where he was recovering from surgery. And fortunately, he found Emmanuel in high spirits; still weak and in pain, but already asking the nurses “when can I go back to work?” That question explains Emmanuel so well. His uncompromising commitment to protect Virunga, despite the constant threat of violence from poachers and others that are trying to harm and exploit it, has never stopped him. And last week, just days before “Virunga” the documentary, premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, he was ambushed while driving and was shot multiple times. That won’t stop him either.

The documentary depicts the desperate struggle by Virunga’s park rangers to protect the park and its wildlife from armed militias, rebels and an oil company. When Emmanuel was in Kampala last year, he was kind enough to share the films’ trailer with us. As we sat in our living room watching it, I knew it was going to make noise about what is happening.

Emmanuel is completely unstoppable in the pursuit of doing the work he feels called to. He has chosen a unique path — one that requires a great deal of sacrifice and bravery, with little recognition or glory. And I’m realizing more and more that those are the true heroes. The individual’s that do their work quietly, without the goal of gaining attention or praise. The individuals that dedicate their talents and passions to doing something bigger than themselves. The individuals who are committed despite the ups and downs that their work may bring. Thank you, Emmanuel, for your unwavering commitment to fight for peace and justice. I can’t wait for the world to stand behind you.

{You can read a statement from Emmanuel regarding the recent events here.}


{Laren with Emmanuel, flying over Virunga National Park last year.}



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