Healing Seekers’ Expedition Congo for Education
The Healing Seekers Team, Wil Weldon, Esteban “Tibi” Barrera, and founder, Amy Greeson, together with their interpreters, drivers, trackers and guides, have just returned from a two month long expedition to the Congo. A trip described by Greeson as their toughest and most grueling expedition to date, to a pristine region of Africa, unexplored and unmapped by outsiders.
Greeson says that Expedition Congo for Education was a great success – in some unusual and unexpected ways. “We had many…challenges, the least of which was the jungle itself. The results are footage and stories which will greatly benefit students for generations to come.”
“We realized early on that some of the most powerful educational lessons [learned in this expedition] would involve overcoming personal challenges and teaching that with perseverance you can achieve anything you set out to do. I believe that beyond lessons about nature and the environment, cultures and customs, these lessons about going ‘within’ have the power more than any others to transform a child’s life.”
Who are Healing Seekers? Healing Seekers is an educational resource serving the community and world as a 501(c) 3 non –profit organization. The organization’s primary focus is to provide video content and resources for school systems, educational venues and the general public.
The Healing Seekers Team has explored some of the most remote areas of the world such as the Amazon and Andes, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea. Treks are extensively filmed, creating fascinating educational videos and webisodes. These materials complement school curricula.
Furthermore, the organization creates greater awareness of indigenous cultures and life forms; encourages the preservation of the environment and its people with a particular interest in health and healing joining together with other people and groups in measures of sustainability, and collaborates with others who share our vision and mission, both locally and globally.
The Congo expedition was both a high point in the team’s collective experience, and also one of the most difficult and excruciating voyages they have ever undertaken.
It was, says Greeson, a severe struggle for everyone, every day. In an area inhospitable to humans, even to the indigenous Congolese people, the team was constantly plagued by everything from the predictable to the completely unpredictable.
Lack of water even in areas where water was supposed to exist, swarms of dangerous stinging bees and ants, thorns and briars which pierced clothing and sliced skin – this dense jungle was difficult to cut one’s way through even with machetes. But it was teeming with life!
As Greeson tells the story, this expedition was a series of challenges which might have proved dangerous, even fatal, vs. a series of life-changing experiences which the team treasured and which they are looking forward to sharing with others.
The first unexpected challenge. The expedition encountered difficulties right from the start. The group originally employed by Greeson and her team to carry out logistical support from identifying sources of food and water to finding tracks through the jungle, proved not able to do the job. The logistics group bailed out, in fact right after the team’s first series of confrontations with the police/authorities. Extensive reassessments had to be made to cover these losses.
Physical challenges- ants and bees: Because Greeson had anticipated danger from venomous snakes falling from the trees, the team made sure to carry anti snake venom meds with them. But snakes turned out to be the least of their worries.
Columns of biting ants, stinging insects, e.g. bees which were rife in the dry season more than made up for the absence of poisonous snakes. If the group stopped in their tracks for a mere 20 minutes or so, swarms of bees attacked.
Greeson proved to be unusually susceptible to bees which covered her entire body. They swarmed up her legs, and crawled into her clothing and behind her glasses. And into her ears.
Greeson wasn’t alone. The bees encountered near the end of the trip went after Esteban Barrera (aka Tibi). Although Tibi is a tough wilderness survivalist he too was susceptible – his arm, severely bitten, swelled up to two to three times its original size. Luckily they found a clinic which treated Tibi successfully with cortisone.
And in addition to the hostile insects, the team also encountered myriads of exquisite butterflies and a grasshopper with brilliant plumage. Greeson says that these beautiful creatures often arrived at the times she was in her lowest spirits, and gave her joy in dark hours.
“Butterflies have always symbolized metamorphosis for me…The swarms of butterflies in the Congo were magnificent! Simply could not get enough of them…Or hearing the sound of their wings as they flew close to me. As if it was hand painted, this gorgeous grasshopper was one of the most spectacular insects I have ever seen. He decided to enjoy my boots for almost an hour as they dried…”
High notes: new air! The team also early on encountered the extraordinary in what one of their guides called “new air!” as the team hiked under huge, dense, very old trees. In their midst, the guide told them, they could breathe “new air! So pure and fresh that nobody else from the outside world may ever have breathed it before.”
Low notes – lack of water: Perhaps the worst challenge was the lack of water. One can survive insect bites and sharp thorns and briars which rip clothing and flesh to shreds- but no one can live without potable water.
The team eventually learned that their trackers and guides were not completely familiar with the area. In addition, the nights were very dark and the tree canopy so dense that it was difficult to navigate. The team lost its way.
With team members sweating profusely, dehydrated, craving water, one of the trackers went out to find a water source. He directed the team to follow him; however, he inadvertently took them in an entirely wrong direction. Luckily they eventually found a logging road which led to a water source.
But they still didn’t have a satellite feed. They we were all alone. No directions. no helicopter available. They would have called “Global Rescue” for help getting out but they didn’t have a signal.
It was so disheartening that Greeson nearly decided to give up and go home. But the team persuaded her to persevere.
Extraordinary encounters: A remarkable healer, blind from birth, became one of the expedition’s “angels”- people who arrived at a low point in the team’s morale, supported and encouraged them, and showed them the way.
Although the healer’s father and grandfather are all healers, he said that he alone is blind. This healer can track his way through the jungle with the aid of his other senses. Smell, taste, touch- all aid him both in basic navigation and his healing work. He is able to advise his people about the botanicals in the jungle: what to pluck, what to avoid. “Take this one, not that one.”
Greeson says he also appears to have a sixth sense which enables him to continue to treat a broad range of diseases and conditions in his village.
Unhappy encounters: Before they left, the logistics team told Greeson and the team that the Healing Seekers team had made authorities angry and that they would be forced to leave the country. Although the team later learned that most of these assertions were false, they were nevertheless under official suspicion.
The team members were arrested twice and taken to police stations three times, then let go. As outsiders are rarely seen, and as these outsiders were working with cameras and drones, they were thought to be spies. If not spies, then possibly diamond smugglers, since the team had made the mistake of going out on the river at night to film. Although they didn’t know it, this was completely forbidden. Night is when diamond smugglers typically emerge.
Luckily, after the team showed police and authorities their film footage, they established their innocence and were released.
Unexpected support – “angels”: Greeson and the team also later learned that some important Congolese people had taken an interest in their situation. An ambassador, the minister of the interior, a member of the presidential security forces, and even the President of the Congo himself had become interested. The President told the authorities who had detained them that this was not the way to deal with foreigners, with researchers, this was not the way to encourage tourism, and they were to desist.
Even with the misunderstandings and with the team’s broken French, however, Greeson says that they eventually made great friends, even among the police and politicians. The team even shared beers with the police.
“We had angels watching over us, we couldn’t have carried on otherwise,” Greeson said. She said the other thing that kept them strong was knowing that hundreds of people back home were supporting them, praying for them and following them on social media.
Lessons learned: Greeson says that the overwhelming lesson of this expedition is that people can and must persevere, despite all challenges. She learned that she and her colleagues had more strength then they had ever imagined and that in times of trial they could provide each other with the strength needed to carry on. And that the outcome of this perseverance, and of this extraordinary journey, the expedition of a lifetime, is that they would never be the same.
Greeson says: “We are eager to share our materials with the world and look forward to being a catalyst for positive change in many lives now and in years to come.”