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Papua New Guinea – Healing Seekers

A few years ago I started producing short documentaries about the work of non-profit organizations and individuals working on the ground implementing solutions related to environmental and cultural challenges. My first self-produced piece was about Amazon Promise, an NGO bringing medical attention to remote indigenous and mestizo communities in the Peruvian Amazon. I then traveled to Uganda to film the work of the Uganda Rural Community Support Foundation before filming a piece about Green Chimneys, in New York. All of these I had done solo; produced, filmed, and was the on-camera ‘host’; a challenging task to say the least. These 3 films were the basis for creating my non-profit organization, CauseCentric Productions.

For this latest short film my husband and work partner Çapkin, a cameraman and photographer, joined me in the field, giving me the liberty to focus on the storyline and production- while taking on the role of second camera/photo. It made an incredible difference to work on this as a team. We flew to Papua New Guinea where we joined Amy Greeson, founder and executive director of the non-profit, Healing Seekers. The mission of the organization is to “explore the most remote areas of the world in search of healing therapies, medical treatments and cures”. Through filming and documentation they create educational materials about the cultures they visit, while encouraging the protection of the environment these people live in.

Amy invited us on her expedition to Papua New Guinea where we would spend 2 weeks filming their work. From Port Moresby to the Sepik River and out to Tami Island, we documented her search for medicinal plants through the healers we met with. This was an incredible journey deep into a place, but more importantly deep into a culture where many people still live in very close harmony with nature- walking out to the forest pharmacy and cutting a root to heal someone who is ill. This is how we all used to live – nature is, in fact, our medicine cabinet – she is the source and inspiration for all of our remedies.

Healing Seekers' founder Amy Greeson, sound engineer Josh Jones, and cameraman Esteban Barrera

This expedition was physically challenging because of the tough environmental conditions (think very hot and sweaty with cameras in hand and on our backs). But this was not really an issue in the end- I had lived such conditions for much longer periods of time in the Amazon. What was more of a challenge was that I was in a place I had not learned much about before going. Unlike previous documentaries I had been working on where I had done more extensive research about the people and place I was to encounter, my task here was to follow a group of people who were documenting another group- and so I was one step removed- something unusual for me. Once on site, I was to learn a whole lot more than I had anticipated. And I am thankful for it.

Cameraman Çapkin van Alphen shooting for CauseCentric Productions

Without going into too many details (lest this turn into a novel)- these are some of the interesting situations we found ourselves in…that are not into the film produced. We arrived at the Wewak regional airport to find out the body of a college student who had been killed by another student had traveled with us. There are still unwritten tribal laws in action here and it just so happens that our guide was from the same region as the student who killed this young man. The law of the land…an eye for an eye…takes on its most direct meaning here where revenge is sought no matter who pays the price no matter who committed the crime. Everything turned out well- but this was one situation I had not anticipated and could not imagine beforehand. On another day- we headed out to remote Tami island…only to find out we did not have enough gas to get there and our guide stated he had not received the money from his boss to buy gas. I have to ask- then why did we leave ‘port’ in the first place? Night was falling and we ended up landing on some tiny little sand bar with a 20-person village on it. We spent the night in a gracious family’s home who had offered our team their space. The next day we were able to get to Tami (it just so happens this little sand bar stocks black market gas…). Anyhow- the trip was full of such stories not related to our reason for being there.

Céline Cousteau and the Aseki mummies in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

We got our story and then some. Amy and the Healing Seekers team are an amazing group of dedicated people worth following. Their work is of great importance. Rather than describe in writing what we learned from them in Papua New Guinea, watch the video.

When you meet like-minded people, you hang on to their friendship and so Amy and I have stayed in touch. This is one of the bonuses of sharing incredible experiences away from the distractions of our western world- the iPhones, internet, to do list, etc-. When you simply get out there into the world and learn by communicating with people, you come back enriched.

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Watch the CauseCentric Productions film: