Seven years ago, floating away on the Pantera boat from the Marubo village of Rio Novo in the Javari Valley was heart-wrenching. After learning about the health crisis threatening the survival of the indigenous tribes, how could we leave without doing something to help? That day, I promised I’d return. I promised I’d help, somehow. I tried to put together a project to bring medical help to that region, but I kept hitting walls. Such a project required an in-depth understanding of the local culture and people, and most importantly, time and access to create it. And I kept being told that there was already a system to help the tribes. But that was the very same organization that had bailed on the indigenous conference in Javari Valley in the middle of the night.
After a year of trying, in the midst of my existing professional obligations, I realized I had to let this project go. It was one of the hardest decisions in my life, because I felt I was letting those 3,500 indigenous people die. So when I received an e-newsletter soon after from a non-profit called Amazon Promise looking for volunteers to join a medical trip to indigenous villages in the Peruvian Amazon, I didn’t even have to think about it. I was in—even though this wasn’t the same area or even the same country, it was one way I could at least help a group of people. I’d help translate the patients’ Spanish for the American doctors, clean wounds, wash out lice and dispense medications per the doctors’ prescriptions. It was then I decided I’d also make a short film about it. In a nutshell, that’s how I began CauseCentric Productions.
For two weeks we traveled to remote Amazon villages that had requested help. Some days we only had 20 patients; other days, over 170 lined up. I remember one little girl, nine-month-old Rebecca. She had been sick for days, but her parents, teenagers, were suspicious of the “white” doctors who had set up a makeshift clinic in their village schoolhouse. However, the little girl wasn’t getting better, so they brought her to us. Drenched in sweat, Rebecca whimpered in her father’s arms as the doctor examined her. She had pneumonia and was running a 103.8 fever. The doctor treated her, but what if we hadn’t been there? What would’ve happened to Rebecca? What if the same thing is happening in the village next door and we just don’t know it? What if… There are too many “what if”s in the Amazon. That’s their reality.
In 2010, Beto Marubo, whom we had met at the indigenous conference in the Javari Valley, reached out to me asking me to come back and try to help. “The situation here gets more complicated every day,” he wrote.
I responded that I had tried to create a project to deliver medical aid to the Javari Valley but it didn’t work. “All I can do is tell your story,” I said.
“That’s what we need,” he replied.
Sometimes it’s hard to feel connected to a place thousands of miles away that we know nothing about. Storytelling changes that. It bridges the distance. Erases all borders. There’s a Native American saying that goes, “It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story.” Beto’s is one of those voices. Mine is another. As are those of my dedicated team. We sincerely believe that storytellers can spark action and change. But we’re only one-half of the equation. Without a captive audience, those stories fizzle and die. So the more people know about what’s happening with the indigenous tribes in the Javari Valley, the better their chance of survival. When we don’t know about the existence of a problem, we might continue living in naïve ignorance without concern. Once we know about it, we’re no longer ignorant, and we become responsible for letting it continue.
So here I am, packing for my return to the Amazon, again. I hope that through our film and stories, we can get the message out, because the indigenous people are the true caretakers of the rainforest. They’re the ones who look after an ecosystem that we all depend upon. By taking care of them, we’re also taking care of this environment in the long run.
The Amazon really does have a hold on me. And it keeps calling me back. So I listen.
Watch our teaser for the upcoming expedition, Tribes on the Edge.
Merci and à bientôt,
In honor of our upcoming expedition to the Brazilian Amazon to film Tribes on the Edge we are giving away a copy of my father’s eBook for the Apple iPad, Return to the Amazon, chronicling the the 2006-2007 expedition as well as the 1982-1983 expedition with my grandfather. You can enter here.
I would like to mail you a postcard from the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, find out more here.