Photo: Corneille Ewango

In the world of leaders who stay calm in the face of stressful situations, Corneille Ewango stands out for his courage and dedication. While he grew up in a family of poachers and hunters he got the chance to go to school and there he found a new mission, to study and preserve the flora and fauna of his region, the Congo Basin forest.

The Congo Basin’s great forests are, like many other fragile ecosystems, under pressure from external forces. Settlers are always on the hunt for fresh farmland and miners look for valuable ore deposits. Worst of all are the soldiers who have been fighting over the forests both as territory to be won and as a resource for bush meat and cooking charcoal. Ewango risked his life to defend his country’s extraordinary wilderness. As director of the Okapi Reserve’s botany program during its civil war he led efforts to protect the forest and its people  from mass murder, rampant rape, and widespread destruction.

According to the National Geographic “He rallied 30 junior staff members and 1,500 forest residents to stand up to marauding militias and preserve crucial reserve data throughout years of war and chaos. He divided irreplaceable plant specimens, secretly distributing them to friends for safekeeping. Research materials and data files were strategically buried in the forest. For three months he hid in the dense vegetation himself, foraging for food alongside the very wildlife he sought to protect. “I knew if I left, everything could be lost. And I wanted to be there to rebuild immediately after the situation normalized.”

His leadership is an example to all of us who face adversity and strive to remain calm in stressful situations.