Over the weekend, Myroslava Gongadze, was honored with the Inamori Ethics Prize in Ohio for her outstanding work as a journalist and human rights advocate. We are thrilled to share that our very own Dr. Shannon French, a Mountain Seed board member and Inamori Professor in Ethics, played a vital role in awarding this prestigious prize as the Director of the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University.
“The Inamori Ethics Prize is awarded to honor not just scholars but the doers of the world and those showing ethical leadership in their fields. Ethics at its core is about living a good life in the sense of a deeply meaningful human existence. Opening up potential and capacity and getting rid of the obstacles that keep us from being who we could be.”
– Dr. French
Our mission is to provide people with the tools for resilience, while illuminating their strengths and developing their community of support. By presenting new obstacles – literal mountains – they realize their ability to conquer any situation by focusing on the positive and having hope. This approach closely aligns with the Inamori philosophy and resonates deeply with Myroslava, who knows the importance of resilience firsthand due to the loss of her husband, who was abducted and killed in 2000.
We were honored to have Dr. French join us at Healing Base Camp this summer, embodying the Inamori philosophy, and championing our mission to empower those navigating grief’s intricate terrain. During the award presentation, Dr. French delivered an eloquent speech, drawing parallels between Myroslava’s work and the remarkable courage and fortitude exhibited by the families of the fallen that she met at this summer’s camp. The families departed Healing Base Camp equipped with the tools necessary to confront the uncertainty of war, navigate grief, and maintain an optimistic outlook.
This summer, I had the great privilege of meeting war weary Ukrainian families who had traveled to Austria to attend what was called a Healing Base Camp, run by the international nonprofit Mountain Seed Foundation. During the week I was there with my daughter, we hosted 23 Ukrainian children, ages 5-15, all of whom had lost at least one family member – in most cases their fathers – in the illegal and unjustified Russian invasion of their country. We were also joined by some of the children’s widowed mothers, a father who had previously fought in the war and is now caring for the children while his wife serves in the Ukrainian army, and an indefatigable grandmother raising her young granddaughter who lost part of her right leg to the same Russian bomb that killed her mother.
These families were suffering from the trauma of the ongoing conflict, made even worse by the injustice of how it has been conducted, with Russia intentionally targeting civilians and committing other atrocities such as torture and rape. Understandably, they were wary of what this experience had to offer. Although worn down, bereaved, and exhausted, there was still spirit enough in them to try.
Under the guidance and instruction of Mountain Seed volunteers, the children literally learned how to climb every mountain – and one enormous reservoir dam – mastering the via ferrata that was originally designed in WWI to help troops traverse the alps. They were joined on these climbs by two of my former students, Nathan Schmidt, who founded Mountain Seed Foundation after serving as a Marine in Iraq, and Dan Cnossen, who became a Paralympian after losing both his legs as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan. Both had been broken by war, suffering physical and moral injury, but had found new meaning and purpose.
By the end of the week, even the kids who had originally shown fear or reluctance facing the heights successfully summited the mighty Kitzsteinhorn mountain, bursting with pride. Meanwhile, the children’s mothers and guardians received practical and therapeutic support, gaining new tools to help sustain them when they returned to their homeland.
Needless to say, it was a profoundly humbling and inspiring experience to see people who had every right to feel nothing but anger and bitterness at the world, turn inward, and retreat from life, instead launch themselves willingly into new risks and challenges, actively growing their own resiliency, and proving their courage and strength of spirit – especially to themselves.
None of us can control what tragedies befall us or what obstacles we’ll face, but how we respond to them defines our character. Leading an ethical life is about finding a way to flourish and to fight for a better future. I witnessed that commitment in every person who attended the camp. In the words of Dr. Inamori, “Life is about making continuous efforts to move forward with a positive attitude while enduring whatever misfortune or mishap that might occur.” I saw that philosophy being lived on a mountainside in Austria. I see it again in the woman we are here to honor tonight.
Myroslava Gongadze is a shining example of character overcoming circumstances. In a moment, you will hear more about her from Provost Ward. But let me share a little of her story now. Myroslava was already making the world a better place by pursuing the life of a journalist, bringing information and answers out into the light. When her husband was kidnapped and brutally murdered, she showed tremendous courage continuing her work and raising her two amazing daughters alone. But she didn’t stop there. She fought what became a global struggle to gain justice for her husband and expose corrupt authorities. Her example helped spark a revolution that brought new hope to Ukraine. Surely, that was enough. Not for Myroslava. Understanding the old saying, “Truth is the first casualty of war,” since the war began in 2022, she has reported the truth from inside the conflict for the Voice of America, refusing to yield any ground to Russian architects of disinformation. This is what ethical leadership looks like.
We all face battles, large and small, in our lives. We all know pain, loss, fear, and self doubt. Yet we are capable of choosing to be defined not by what we can’t control, but by what we can. We can take the ethical path, reclaim our power, use our talents for good, and do our part to resist injustice and pursue the truth.
On the stage behind me is a doll, a unique gift from the Inamori Foundation, representing the virtue of altruism. Myroslava will be receiving a doll like this one from the Foundation to remind her of her time with us. I hope when we all think of this night, we are reminded that we are at our best when we look beyond ourselves and recognize that with a little courage and faith in humanity, we really can climb – and move – mountains.
Help us shine a light on this important work by sharing & tagging your favorite climb on social media! #HealingBaseCamp
Mountain Seed Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, EIN 87-1017090. Donations are tax deductible.