One of the things that caught my eye from the World Park’s Congress feed thus far was the report by the IUCN and the Ranger Federation dedicated to the world’s park rangers that have lost their lives or have been severely injured in the field. This hit home in an impactful way since watching the newly released Netflix documentary “Virunga,” directed by Orlando von Einsiedel. This story is about the gorillas of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the rangers that protect them. SOCO, a British oil company was discovered by journalists to be supporting a rebel faction known as M23 to force the DRC army out of Virunga. This was done so that SOCO could move in to drill for oil in one of the world’s last sanctuaries for the wild Mountain Gorilla, a World Heritage Site and National Park. This movie reveals the day-to-day dangers that park Rangers face and why they continue to risk their lives. This movie struck me for a number of reasons; not only was the cinematography incredible and the story telling powerful, it gave a voice to the rangers and journalists that put their lives on the line for their moral beliefs in an intimate and emotional way.
This brings me to my long-winded point… the importance of underrepresented storytelling and the complacency of media in our society. The world over contains people that risk their lives everyday for a greater cause, whether that’s for gorillas in Virunga National Park, the rights and safety of sex slaves in Nepal or for those that lack a political voice in Tibet. And most go unrecognized. We live in a country and in a time with the amazing opportunity to freely share our stories, our political opinions, even our most vulnerable and sensitive thoughts across the world whenever we feel inclined to do so. It is in this opportunity that I ask our generation to take a moment, step back and really try to understand what that means. Why do we waste countless hours and millions of dollars on reality TV shows like “the Jersey Shore?” Even Discovery Channel and National Geographic, channels that have traditionally supported education and exploration, have shifted their foundations in order to jump on the lucrative reality show bandwagon. These meaningless and shameful dramas take up valuable airspace, too much money and portray a culture that values surface interactions, un-empowering judgments, and complacency. Why is it that “Toddlers and Tiaras” get their own reality show and Emmanuel de Merode (director of Virunga National Park shot multiple times trying to expose SOCO’s exploitation story), and Andre Bauma (caretaker for gorillas at the rehabilitation center in Virunga) are given so little attention?
If we do not witness and share these valuable and empowering stories, we are wasting an opportunity to make this world a better place. Today, please, turn off “the Kardashians,” and take ninety minutes to watch “Virunga.” Share this story with those around you. We all don’t need to drop everything, get up and move to the DRC in order to risk our lives to protect Mountain Gorillas to make a difference. But, spend some time today thinking about someone that inspires you through their voice or work, ask yourself why they do what they do, and consider how you may exemplify similar traits to the people and things around you in a way that matters. Post a comment, share your underrepresented heroes with us! We want to hear their story!