Peruvian Amazon. Photo by: Chris Kilham © 2010

Face Painting in the Peruvian Amazon

The NBC Nightly News expedition was intense on many levels. Chris, Sergio, myself, the NBC reporter and producer, lived in a small, one-room hut, in an environmentally devastated village in the Peruvian Amazon.

There were many children in the village, and I got to know each and every one of them by name and personality. They followed me around like ducklings, and competed for a position holding either hand any time we walked anywhere.

The idea of face-painting was a whim, and I’m so grateful I went with the impulse. Painting faces allowed for quality, one-on-one connecting time with each child. Each one looked directly into my soul, holding perfectly still and savoring each moment. Zero language boundaries here(!) and a beautiful trust-building play with kind, bright, beautiful future stewards of the Amazon.

They knew exactly what to do, mind you—I laid out a tarp on the muddy ground, pulled out my paints and brushes, and was instantly surrounded by all the village children. They patiently waited their turn, stayed perfectly still while I was painting, then rushed to bring toddlers and baby siblings, which they held up for me. Adorable.

Women (mothers and grandmothers and such) watched from a short distance. Shy, but curious, and studying me closely.

Women sent their children over as what I’ve taken to calling “Cute Ambassadors.” Women do this all over the world. I figure they’re thinking something akin to: “If they love our children, they must be OK.”

I got so much positivity from this experience I absolutely intend to do it again, anywhere appropriate.

- Zoe Helene, NBC Nightly News Expedition, Peruvian Amazon