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Vale do Javari – Brazil – April 2013

The hot humid air felt familiar – I knew I was back.

The last time I was in Manaus, Brazil was in 2007 while filming “Return to the Amazon”, a 2-hour show created by my father for PBS, revisiting places my grandfather had been 25 years earlier. The last 5 years have gone by so fast! When did I blink?

This time I returned to the Amazon again on the request of one of my contacts, Beto, from the indigenous Marubo tribe of the Vale do Javari protected reserve. He was asking for my help. The major health issues the contacted tribes of the region are facing are of immense and dire concern. We first learned of this health situation when filming in 2007 and attended a conference (in the middle of the jungle) between the contacted tribes and the government organizations working with them on various levels. We heard that a large percentage of the people of the Vale do Javari have some form of Hepatitis: from A,B,C, to Delta. Add malaria to the mix and what you get is a war-like assault on the liver with potential death. Beto tells me that nothing has changed since we were there in 2007; help has not come and his people are dying.

Of course I answered the call and after working through necessary steps to get there and thanks to the National Geographic All Roads Seed Fund grant…I went to Atalaia-do-Norte near the Vale do Javari, talked to the representatives of the tribes and interviewed people from each group.  Each person stared into my eyes sharing stories so sad you wish you never heard them. But once you do, there is no going back. As tears rolled down their faces, they rolled down mine. With a small child of my own, I cannot fathom living the same fate -watching him die of a preventable and painful death. No, there is no going back from what I’ve been witness to. To be human is to have compassion and that creates a drive to do more than sit idly by while others suffer.

This is the beginning of a multi-phased, multi-media project. Through this initiative, I hope to carry out what was asked of me in 2007- to help tell these stories and inspire change so they may heal their people and gain strength. The initiative will be launched in Brazil first, for this is where the story is born. It may take time- but we will persist. This didn’t happen overnight, we can’t solve it overnight- but we must start!

There will be opportunities to help support this project through donations and once we have this structured, I will post information here…

Barbara, myself, and Jen coming back from filming interviews on the river.

Barbara, myself, and Jen coming back from filming interviews on the river

April 2013 team members:

Barbara Arisi- anthropologist and my field producer in the making- has worked in the Vale do Javari for extensive periods of time, publishing several papers on stories related to the Matis tribe.

Jennifer Galvin- camerawoman, independent filmmaker, and friend answered my call to help…and that means a lot. Thanks for sharing the photos included here.

Thank you both for believing in this!!!

Jen and I in our hammocks for the night

Jen and I in our hammocks for the night

Barbara and I talking with a Matis representative (in a moment of lightness amidst the heavy stories)