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NWMT brings the world to Tigard

The sights are not those tourists usually see, but they graphically reflect many world situations
by: L.E. Baskow, A BAD SCENE – John Lampros (left) and Brian Heidel put the finishing touches on a replicated dump in Tultitlan, Mexico, which is one of eight new vignettes in Northwest Medical Teams’ REAL. LIFE. exhibit.

TIGARD - People can travel around the world without ever leaving Tigard.

Northwest Medical Teams has drastically revamped and renamed its permanent exhibit - now called REAL. LIFE.

It shows dioramas of many of the countries it serves and now includes more recent disasters like the South Asia tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

'This was a labor of love,' said Barbara Agnew, NWMT spokeswoman. 'We've been working on it for the past 18 months.

'There's lots of information here, including historical, economic and political. People can really learn about international affairs.'

As people walk in the entrance, they can first watch a short video about NWMT's work around the world and the steps that lead to disaster recovery.

The horrific earthquake in Pakistan last year is an example of what NWMT really does, according to Agnew, who visited New Orleans last December.

'Northwest Medical Teams is well known for disaster relief, but our ongoing efforts are also important,' she said. 'We train the local people to take care of their own.'

Perhaps the most startling new image in the exhibit is an almost life-sized tsunami wave that towers over people near the entrance of the exhibit.

The 'wave' is 25 feet high, which is all the ceiling height will allow, but it is still very impressive. In reality, the highest wave that hit Sri Lanka was 30 feet high, and the one striking Indonesia was estimated to be 75 to 90 feet high.

A sign by the wave tells visitors that in seven hours, 230,000 people were killed and 1.8 million were left homeless.

In this part of the exhibit, as well as in areas representing other countries, are drawings made by children who survived the various natural disasters.

'We sent trauma counselors, who go there to train local people and show them that it helps kids to draw what they went through,' Agnew said.

The New Orleans exhibit shows a medical triage clinic like the ones NWMT actually set up, and an Albanian refugee camp graphically demonstrates how Kosovar refugees who fled ethnic cleansing are forced to live.

Life-sized photos are spread throughout the exhibit, and in the Uganda section, visitors feel like they are standing right in line with local people waiting their turn at a mobile clinic.

A sign explains that 80 percent of the people in northern Uganda live in camps for internally displaced persons.

In this 'world tour,' flashing lights represent death.

Next to one light is a sign that notes a child dies every 3 seconds from preventable disease.

Other signs explain that there are 23 million refugees and displaced people in the world, and 40 percent of people have no access to safe latrines or toilets.

'We've added an AIDS vignette,' Agnew said. 'It is a silent disaster - it's killed more than 30 million people around the world - that's equal to 10 percent of the U.S. population. And there are more AIDS orphans all the time.'

A striking vignette requires some careful footwork on the part of visitors - the floor of the Mexican garbage dump is strewn with flattened cardboard, plastic and paper.

'It's very sobering,' Agnew said. 'Millions of poor people live in filthy urban dumps. One out of five people in the world lives in desperate poverty.'

Despite the grim scenarios displayed in the exhibit, there also is a message of hope.

'What we've added are more resolution aspects,' Agnew said. 'Situations have changed. Health care has improved in some areas.'

A Moldavian children's hospital exhibit shows a burn center, where NWMT doctors and nurses have shown local medical workers better ways to treat patients.

'Their practices were much dated,' Agnew said.

Orphanages also are getting better in such countries as Romania, where NWMT teams show caregivers how to interact more with the children and provide them with toys and other stimulation, rather than leaving them alone all day.

'Our last area (of the exhibit) is still being refined,' Agnew said. 'But we are working on showing visitors how they can make a difference - by writing letters to educators and their representatives in Congress, holding hygiene drives, praying, writing a letter to a child.'

Also, NWMT will need a lot more volunteers to greet people and to lead groups through the exhibit.

'They can donate as much or as little time as they want, and they receive training,' Agnew said.

The exhibit covers 11,000 square feet, and it took more than $100,000 in donated services and 25,000 hours of time from volunteers and staff to complete it.

The REAL. LIFE. exhibit opens Sept. 19 for tours by students from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday by appointment only.

For more information or to schedule a tour, contact Laurel Emory at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 503-624-1215.

For a virtual tour, visit www.nwmedicalteams.org and click on REAL. LIFE. Exhibit.

The exhibit is located at the NWMT headquarters and distribution center at 14150 S.W. Milton Court.