Hope and relief

Beaverton's Bert Waugh uses lectures on Uganda to find help for troubled land
by: Jaime Valdez, Bert Waugh is framed by a panoramic scene from the Northwest Medical Teams Real Life Exhibit in Tigard.

When Bert Waugh gives a lecture recounting a trip to refugee camps in Uganda last July, he sometimes doesn't have words to describe all he experienced.

Even the 16 minutes of pictures and videos Waugh uses as an intro to his talk don't sufficiently show how upsetting the situation was, so the Medical Teams International board member asks the audience to imagine themselves in the position of the people in these camps who are without clothes, food and blankets, many of whom also haven't bathed in years.

'The camps ranged from 10,000 to 50,000 people, and I don't know that I can say any longer that (the trip) changed my life because I said that after I came back from Katrina, and this was so much worse,' he said.

'And now I just say I came back a different person. I saw incredible poverty, I saw hunger, I saw sickness, death, and yet I saw the hope and relief that Medical Teams International brought to thousands and thousands of people.'

This hope is one of the things the Beaverton resident will focus on during his upcoming presentation as part of Washington County Historical Society's Crossroads series.

Waugh's lecture, 'Medical Teams International Uganda Program,' will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Medical Teams International (14150 S.W. Milton Court in Tigard), and will be followed by a self-guided tour of the organization's new Real Life exhibit.

Waugh said those who attend will get to hear about his experiences with Medical Teams International, as well as walk through the new exhibit that showcases the important work by the nonprofit organization.

'(The exhibit) is truly a real-life experience. I have been through several times and every time it has an emotional impact on me,' he said. 'It's wonderful. It really does showcase all the work that Medical Teams is doing all over the world.'

Scott Brown, education manager for Washington County Museum, said Waugh was a natural choice for this month's Crossroads Lecture because of everything the former board member of the museum had experienced, as well as the local connection held by the speaker.

'His incredible experiences in Uganda as a volunteer with Medical Teams International will serve as a wonderful topic for our audience,' Brown said.

'His work aiding Ugandan refugees is obviously very unique and, needless to say, we are thrilled to have him speak in our Crossroads Lectures Series.'

'A wonderful people'

While in Uganda, Waugh helped out at some of the 10 refugee camps Medical Teams International serves in the region.

He said he and other volunteers would drive on roads for two hours to get to a camp, stopping at times to check for rebel sightings. When they would finally arrive at their destination, there would be close to 500 people lined up to get treatment.

Medical teams would arrive along with the convoy of volunteers and begin setting up a series of tents to house the patients, and an ambulance would be used as a pharmacy. Those in line would then be divided up according to their ailments and then given numbers and sent off to the proper tent.

Waugh said he saw people of all ages with malaria, scurvy and malnutrition, but even in such terrible circumstances he was able to see through to the beauty of the Ugandan people.

'One of the things that was so striking to me though, is that not one time did anybody beg, and I found that I don't have an answer for that. I don't know why,' he said. 'They are such wonderful people. As a group, Ugandan people are just a wonderful, wonderful spirit and just a wonderful people.'

Waugh also visited hospitals in Lira and Apac, taking time at each place to sit and visit with those being treated there.

He said the first time he really broke down and cried during his trip was in the maternity ward of a hospital in Apac, where about 30 pregnant women were waiting to give birth, but only 20 of them had beds to lie on. When he saw the women on the filthy floor, their bellies full with life, he said he began to cry even though he knew it was not the best thing to do in such a difficult situation.

'I couldn't help it,' he said of the tears that flowed at that moment. 'And I just went from mom to mom and sat and just kind of held their hands for a bit.'

For the children

Another experience that really stood out for Waugh was spending time with school-age children. He said he visited a few schools during his trip, and each time found himself to be somewhat of a 'pied piper' to the children, who all followed him around trying to touch his skin and get the attention of the friendly visitor.

One common problem is a lack of books for children to use, so Waugh, with the help of his family and friends, was able to donate 21,000 books for 21,000 Ugandan schoolchildren. He said this simple act was important in helping the next generation stay positive for the future.

'At some of these camps I'd have to get up and talk, and I would look out there and see this sea of eyes of all these people, and you see no hope,' Waugh said. 'But you look in the eyes of the children and you see hope.'