I am excited (if a little apprehensive) to announce that this year I will be running the Virgin London Marathon, undertaking the rather momentous challenge to run 26 miles (42 kilometres) through the British capital to raise funds for Virunga National Park. This decision has come as a surprise to family, friends, and colleagues alike!
It has also led to an extremely generous offer from Paul Leander-Engström, through his organisation The World We Want Foundation, to match every donation that is made towards my marathon appeal, up to $500,000. This presents us with a fantastic opportunity to raise $1 million for Virunga National Park.
It was just three years ago that I was left fighting for my life when I was ambushed and shot returning to the park headquarters. I was extremely lucky to have survived, and to be able to resume my work for Virunga within a matter of weeks. The incident could have ended very differently. In fact, over 150 of my colleagues have lost their lives protecting Virunga. This loss is something I carry with me every day, and I run this marathon in dedication to the memory of rangers and staff that are no longer with us.
The funds being raised for the Virgin Money London Marathon will be put into an endowment fund being set up to secure the future of the rangers and their families for years to come. Fallen rangers leave behind families who relied on them as the main breadwinners, and an injured ranger poses a financial burden on a family. The fund will be used to not only pay for pensions for those widows and retired rangers, but also help pay for medical treatment for rangers injured in the line of duty.
The brave men and women who fight everyday to protect the wildlife of Virunga National Park have driven me through the 5 AM runs, the night runs through the forest with only a head torch for light, and ensuring I commit the time needed to prepare adequately for this marathon.
There has never been a better moment to donate to Virunga. Every donation made will be doubled – so every dollar you give is 2 dollars to the park – and this money will continue to support Virunga, making a definite and lasting impact for decades to come.
My sincere thanks,
Emmanuel de Merode