Today is Earth Day, a worldwide celebration of environmental protection. I wanted to mark the occasion by sharing an update ahead of my participation in the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon. With less than 24 hours to go, the reality is well and truly sinking in of just how much of an undertaking this race is going to be. Yet, despite the nerves I wanted to say thank you to everyone who has shown such tremendous support for me and Virunga National Park over the past weeks. The messages of support and encouragement mean so much, and your generosity has been overwhelming.
Watch Emmanuel’s unique training session with Virunga’s gorilla orphans at the Senkwekwe Centre
This is my tenth year as director of Virunga National Park, over that period, 41 of my staff were killed. Over 150 have been killed since the civil war started in 1996, many disappearing without trace, and many more were seriously wounded protecting the park’s extraordinary wildlife, as well as local communities, from armed militia. Virunga’s rangers face the extreme dangers of their profession in the fear that, should they be killed, their families will be abandoned. My greatest sorrow has been our failure to provide enough for the families of those that were killed or permanently maimed in the struggle to keep Virunga alive.
Nothing is more important to me than to build an adequate safety net for the widows and children of our friends and colleagues who have been killed. So when a friend challenged me to run the London Marathon, and agreed to match any money we could raise up to half a million dollars, I agreed. The opportunity to achieve something amazing for Virunga’s rangers was impossible to pass up.
The money we raise will go to an endowment that will guarantee a basic pension for the widows and children of Virunga’s fallen rangers forever. On Sunday, I will complete the marathon with pride on behalf of the park’s dedicated rangers, and in memory of those who are sadly no longer with us. Knowing that every step brings us closer to being able to guarantee our rangers security for their families when the worst happens, will help motivate me through those 26.2 miles (42 kilometres) of London’s streets.
Please consider any donation, big or small, we have until 27th April to try and reach our ambitious $1 million fundraising goal.
Emmanuel de Merode