Hello! My name is Abby Beard, and I currently live in Kona, Hawaii! I am a full time photographer, graphic designer, and missionary. I get the absolute privilege to travel all over the world, hear people’s stories, and then document them through photography! I love traveling and seeing new places and experiencing new things. We only have one life to live, and I want to see as much of what God has created as I can!
How does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
Photography forces me to slow down and notice more. I’m constantly looking around for good compositions and picturing photos in my head. There is beauty and uniqueness in every place, and I want to find it. I love seeing the overall picture of a place and the landscapes, but I also love the details. I especially love people and how different, but beautiful, each person is from every region of the world. Even the darkest places have light in them, and I believe God’s beauty is in every single place. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder to find it.
What sparked your interest to travel to Papua New Guinea? Which region(s) did you visit?
I work with a mission organization called Youth with a Mission (YWAM). Within this mission I work with a ministry called PhotogenX, which seeks to use visual arts and media to touch lives, to communicate God’s heart, and to motivate people to action. Our desire is to call forth potential and cultivate change. In the fall of 2015, we had heard of the government of Papua New Guinea opening the doors for YWAM to come in to train young people, to start schools, to provide medical care, and anything else that would help the country. A team and I went so that we could capture the beauty of the land, to capture stories, and to capture the needs so we could motivate people to go to Papua New Guinea – short term and long term. I was in the capital of Port Moresby for a few days, but then I flew to a town named Madang. From Madang I traveled on a ship to an island called Bagabag Island.
How did you navigate between each city?
Papua New Guinea doesn’t have highways, so planes are a necessity to get from city to city. You must land in the capital of Port Moresby whenever you come into the country. If you are going somewhere a few hours away, you’ll be able to ride in a big truck. But if you are going anywhere outside of that range, you will definitely need to take a plane. Boats are also a main mode of transportation. To get from one city to an island, we sailed on a ship, and most people in that area will get from the islands to a mainland city by banana boats.
What has been your favorite approach to photography while there? Did you generally strike up a conversation with your subjects or just candidly capture the moment? How did people react to being photographed?
I usually do both approaches to photography – starting a conversation first and doing it candidly. It totally depends on the moment and situation. I am a strong believer in dignifying others, and I try to do that when photographing people. I wouldn’t want a bad photo taken of me, so why would anyone else in the world want one taken of them? One of the greatest things about photography is that it is a conversation starter. Usually I can start taking a photo and that opens the door for me to talk to someone. The people in Papua New Guinea were very open for pictures, but I noticed that the children were much more shy.
Did you have any expectations or preconceived notions about the culture you would be exposed to? How did they differ from the way the culture actually was?
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect when going to Papua New Guinea. When you google photos of PNG, you always see some really cool portraits of people dressed in traditional clothing with amazing face paint – it’s beautiful. I had heard we shouldn’t expect seeing that, and that was more accurate. They only dress up in their traditional clothing about once or twice a year during festivals, which unfortunately didn’t happen while I was there. Another thing you’ll notice when you search Papua New Guinea is the magnificent landscapes. That is most definitely accurate! Papua New Guinea is so diverse (800 languages in their entire country!), so the landscapes vary as well. I mainly visited the more “island life” region, but it was just as beautiful – if not more – than I was expecting! Crystal clear blue water, crazy beautiful jungle, trees everywhere – it was magnificent! Even the outhouses are beautiful and have a great view!
What were some of your experiences as a traveler in the region?
When walking out of the airport, one of the first things we noticed was the diversity of the people! There were so many different types, but they were all so beautiful. It truly is a land of diversity – in its people, in its landscapes, in its languages. The people in Papua New Guinea are probably some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Everyone you meet is genuinely excited to meet you and talk to you, and also very hospitable! For food, one main staple is rice, but the best part is that they make it with coconut milk so it has a hint of coconut taste in it – so good! They also eat lots of greens, sweet potatoes, fish and pumpkin. The pumpkin was absolutely delicious! Ultimately, my favorite part of the food in Papua New Guinea was the coconuts. They are literally everywhere, and so cheap (or free if you’re not in the city and a local offers to climb a palm tree to get one for you!). When we were on the island, some locals were kind enough to climb up to get us coconuts and open them for us so we could drink the water and then eat the coconut meat inside. Wow – I miss those coconuts!
How did this trip differ from trips you’ve taken in the past? What surprised you most about your experience?
Papua New Guinea is unlike any other country I’ve been to. It was so different, but yet it had little aspects of other places within it as well. It’s so unique, and I love it! One of the biggest differences of this trip compared to others I have taken is that this time I was solely focused on getting stories. Yes that includes taking in the beauty, but it made me focus more on the place and the people – who they are, what is their daily life, what they love about PNG, what is difficult, what are their needs, what are their dreams, etc.
I think what surprised me the most about the experience was how much I felt connected to the country after I left. I’ve quickly realized that when I get to know people in a place, I’m much more connected to it. They aren’t just the people of Papua New Guinea, but they have names and their own personal stories. As soon as you get out of “tourist” mode and actually get to know the people and the culture, you get so much more connected to it. I left not just meeting people and hearing their stories and taking photos of them, but I left having made new beautiful friendships with people in Papua New Guinea. And now those people and that country have left a mark on me.
What recommendations can you share for future travelers also interested in exploring the region?
Papua New Guinea is so diverse and there are many different climates to view, but it’s not quite set up as a place that many tourists go. Since I was only in Port Moresby and Madang, I can really only talk about those places. In Madang there is a resort called the Madang resort. There are more things to do in the capital of Port Moresby though. The Airways Hotel is another extravagant hotel that all of the politicians and prime minister visit. It is free to walk around in, and they have a cute café inside where you can also get free WiFi. Since Papua New Guinea is an island, the water surrounding it is always beautiful. I didn’t get to do it myself, I’m sure there are some amazing diving opportunities around. There is also a beach in Port Moresby called Ella beach, which has a stunning view and there are nice hotels along the street of the beach.
How can travelers contribute to Papa New Guinea while visiting the country?
I think one of the best things to do when going to another person’s home and country is to get to know someone and their story. I love traveling and experiencing new things, but you don’t really get to experience the true place if you’re always being a tourist and going only where the tourists go. You’re then only experiencing the best parts of the country, and the parts that everyone else sees too. Go outside and get to know someone. I can guarantee you will be blessed, and the people you meet will be blessed too that you’re taking the time to get to know them. Papua New Guinea is incredible, but it also has a lot of need. Medical help and education are two huge issues in the country. I think the best thing to do is love the people and love the land in the best way you see fit without intruding or being invasive into their home.
What would you like people to know about your experience within the country that is little known?
While I was there, I found out that there are only 400 doctors in the entire country of Papua New Guinea. Out of those 400, 300 reside in the main capital of Port Moresby, so that means there are only 100 doctors throughout the rest of the country. Breaking that down even more, that means that there are only 5 doctors per every 100,000 people (compared to the world average of 139 doctors per 100,000 people and in USA its 242). Medical needs are huge in Papua New Guinea, and most of the diseases people are dying from are completely preventable.
Of all the images you captured, which would you say is your favorite? Why?
This (see image below) photo is one of my favorites because the person in it means the most. On the first day we went out to Bagabag Island to hold medical clinics, I was just walking around seeing who I should talk to. I started taking pictures of the cutest little boy, and his mom soon came up to help him not be as shy for the camera. I found out her name was Melyn and her dad was the only doctor on the entire island. She soon invited me into her home, where I met her mother, her little girl, and other relatives that were just hanging out on the porch. I stayed there all day and just talked to them and heard their stories. Melyn and her mother take care of their family’s garden, which provides all the food for them. It is a struggle in the dry season because there isn’t as much water to help the plants grow, which in turn creates less food for them. I connected immediately with Melyn, and she felt like a sister. We talked, giggled, and she kept taking photos of me on her phone so I know I meant the same to her. I had this idea of a picture of their entire family in their garden, and I was so stoked to make it happen! Then I saw her mother and father leave the village to go back to our ship so her mother could get dental work done. I was so sad and hoped they would come back before I had to leave the village, but they didn’t. So at the last minute before I had to leave, I had Melyn and her littlest girl come into the garden, and this was the photo I took! The best part was that I wasn’t sure I was ever going to see Melyn again, but later that week she came to another village so I could see her and her babies! She’s so dear to my heart, and one of the people that made me feel so connected to Papua New Guinea now.
What’s next for you? Do you have any final words of advice?
One of my roles in my mission is to help train students. We run a 6 month long training program called a Discipleship Training school (DTS) with a purpose to equip and champion creative, visual, artistic, and media-minded people to be sent into the world to serve its needs through Christianity. Right now I’m helping lead this school and training in Kona, Hawaii. For three months this summer, we will go on an outreach to Brazil!
My final word of advice is to look for the beauty. There is beauty and light everywhere, even amongst the darkest places. Each place is unique and beautiful – but sometimes we just need to find the treasures.
Images Courtesy of Abby Beard
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