Fallen Rangers Fund
Supporting those who are left behind.
About the Project
Emmanuel de Merode, Director of Virunga National Park, began the work of identifying all the widows of fallen rangers in 2007. Since that time, he and others on the Virunga team have managed to piece together the identities of 75% of the ranger widows dating back to 1991, when regional hostilities began. The process will continue until all are identified and screened for eligibility.
The first phase of the project is essentially financial triage: get $30.00 per month to qualifying families as soon as possible. When living in extreme poverty, every passing day deepens a family’s exposure to malnutrition, disease, and premature death. In this phase, we’re looking to Virunga’s global community to help with the task of supporting these families.
The goal of Phase 2 is to grow a permanent endowment for families of fallen rangers. Private donors and organizations, such as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have helped set up the initial fund. As it grows, the fund will be able to cover the base subsistence cost of a family, as well as provide an educational allowance for children and basic family medical coverage. The fund exists outside the Democratic Republic of Congo and is managed by Virunga Fund in the U.S.A. This ensures that political turmoil and conflict will not be able to endanger the fund. If you have specific questions, please send an email to [email protected].
News from the Fallen Rangers Fund
Ranger Jean Claude leaves behind a wife and two small children…November 9, 2015
We deeply regret to inform you that Virunga National Park Ranger, Jean Claude Kiza Vunabandi, has been killed defending...October 26, 2015
Mapuwa silverbacks Mvuyekure (dominant), Mapuwa, and Mambo Interactions between mountain gorilla families aren’t always amicable, but for the Lulengo...June 7, 2015
Ranger Vianney Harakandi and his family are lucky to be alive. A few days ago, they awoke to find...April 24, 2015
Read her story
“All of the women worry about their husbands when they are in the field. I used to be afraid for his safety, but when he was working in this office job, I didn’t think it was dangerous. I thought he would be safe now.”
– Valeri Katungu speaking of her late husband, a 25-year park veteran
July 29th began as a normal day for Valeri Katungu as she went about her daily routine, taking care of her five youngest children. Her husband of 17 years, Michel, worked nearby at Virunga National Park’s prison where militia, poachers, and illegal charcoal producers are kept before transport to nearby Goma.
Around 2 pm, she received the news. FDLR militia opened fire on the Virunga vehicle transporting prisoners to Goma, and her husband was killed.
Michel was a 25-year veteran of the park and had worked as a ranger in the field in various locations before receiving his latest post at Rumangabo park headquarters two years ago.
Valeri speaks softly as she describes the shock. “All of the women worry about their husbands when they are in the field. I used to be afraid for his safety, but when he was working in this office job, I didn’t think it was dangerous. I thought he would be safe now.”
Valeri lived at the park headquarters along with the families of other key rangers. It’s a tight little community and the wives are friends, sharing a common lifestyle that includes husbands who work at often-dangerous jobs.
“Michel loved his job,” Valeri remembers, “and he was never late, always polite. He was a good man.” According to Valeri, Michel was responsible with money, the children loved him, and if someone came asking for help, he was happy to give any assistance he could – a good man, good husband, good father.
It was a good life for Valeri, but that has changed now. Her 20-year-old son who is away at university cannot pay the school fees without his father’s help – nearly $500 a year – an enormous amount for most Congolese. The family has moved to a house in Kiwanga, north of the park headquarters, where she has a field to cultivate 8 km from her house. Unfortunately, she has been ill for a while, and the doctor has told her to avoid hard labor, but she doesn’t have a choice. She also must pay school fees – $30 per child per year for primary, and $62 per year for secondary.
“I don’t know how I will live,” she says quietly, placing her small hands on her face and looking away.
This is real life for these women who lose their source of income when their ranger-husband dies, which is why the park is committed to supplementing the small government pension with $30 a month. It’s not much, but it certainly helps.
Mariam Sulemani Sadiki
Read her story
“It felt like someone hit me in the face. I set the photos down and walked outside my office where I saw Mariam sitting on the veranda with one of her small children, wiping tears from her eyes.”
– LuAnne Cadd’s reaction to the images that Mariam shared of her husband taken after the attack that killed him.
A woman dropped by the office last week to see me, saying that she had brought pictures of her husband, Assani Sebuyori, a ranger for Virunga National Park. In June, unknown assailants attacked a park vehicle coming south from Lulimbi and her husband died. Although I had not asked for the photos, I knew I might need them someday, so carried the folded sheet of paper holding the photos inside to the scanner in my office.
I opened up the paper, and there printed full size, was a picture of her husband immediately following his death. His head had been blown off and I found myself looking at a photo of a headless body.
It felt like someone hit me in the face. I set the photos down and walked outside my office where I saw Mariam sitting on the veranda with one of her small children wiping tears from her eyes. Since I moved to Virunga in January, eleven rangers have died in attacks while doing their job, eleven wives have become widows…in just eight months. Since 1996, we have lost 131 rangers in attacks, based on records pieced together through many conflicts. It could be higher than 150. I didn’t know any of them personally, and although it deeply grieves me when we lose a ranger, the reality of it had not hit me until that moment: the brutality, the manner in which he died, and the wife left behind, in this case with that nightmarish photo as a reminder, forever embedded in her brain, with or without a photo. I know it’s in mine.
Let me tell you about this family. Mariam has had it rough the last couple of months.
She is 37 years old and has seven children to care for now without the support of a regular salary – the youngest is two, the oldest 15. Some of her relatives took the money Virunga National Park gives to the widows at the funerals. And to add just a little more stress to her life, a few weeks ago, a rumor circulated around the town of Ishasha where Mariam lives about a man who was supposedly involved in the attack. He took her to court, accusing her of starting the rumors, and claiming that they were false. Virunga sent a lawyer to help her.
Ephrem, one of our staff, told me a little about ranger Assani. “He was morally upright and trustworthy, and a good worker who showed results in the anti-poaching work. He was proud of his job as a ranger. If there was something to do, he did it, and did it well. For this reason, even though he was not in a high position, he was given responsibility.” He was a good man.
These widows and their children need your help. We need to supplement their tiny government pension with regular monthly support, but this kind of fund is difficult to maintain without regular monthly donations. The widows will live on, long past the time when the money is gone if we don’t have continual contributions to the fund. Please consider supporting a widow monthly. For just $30 per month, you will be giving one of these women the money to buy food or pay school fees for her children. Life is tough in Congo. Let’s make life a little bit easier for one of these 131+ ranger widows and their families.
Ranger Michel’s FuneralView All
Two rangers were killed and 7 other wounded in a serious attack on the Rumangabo-Goma road when the ICCN truck encountered a mini-bus being looted by at least 30 heavily armed men. Michel’s funeral took place at Rumangabo with a huge community in attendance.