Last year alone, it helped more than 2.1 million people in 72 countries, sending teams of medical professionals and supplies to areas where there have been civil wars, drought, famine, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis.
Last fall, the Redmond satellite office of the organization opened a free, walk-through, multi-sensory exhibit that allows the public to experience the realities for children affected by disaster, conflict and poverty.
The exhibit, REAL.LIFE, presents six stories that take visitors to various zones around the globe where tragedy has struck and where Medical Teams International has stepped in to provide relief, recovery and development efforts.
In Haiti, the focus is on a 7.0 earthquake that occurred in 2010 and killed 100,000 people, while injuring 300,000 more, leaving millions homeless.
A large blown-up photo of a Haitian street spreads across one wall, showing demolished buildings and piles of rubble.
Nearby is a tent showing the living conditions of the survivors, who must sleep on concrete with as many as 10 to a shelter.
A mound of clothes, a pail and a pitcher are all that remain of the inhabitants’ possessions. The realities of life in a tent camp are made even more visceral via live video footage.
Drawings by children describing their experiences on the day of the earthquake hang on a wall, along with subsequent happy drawings that were done later after Medical Teams International trauma counselors worked with the kids.
In another room, visitors learn of the 9.0 earthquake that caused a massive tsunami in the Indian Ocean back in 2004, killing 230,000 people and a similar one more recently in Japan that left 20,000 dead or missing.
The power of water and its destructive forces are graphically noted and for a reality check, visitors can stand beneath a picture of a massive 23-foot wave.
It pales in comparison to the 75 to 90 feet high waves that occurred in Japan’s tsunami.
Most poignant are the drawings and words of the children who express the fears and horrors they experienced. In one picture, a child is drawn without a face or eyes because she does not want to see what’s happening in front of her.
Accompanying the drawing are the words, “I wish I could close my eyes forever.”
In Mexico, the issue is abject poverty and ill-health. Garbage landfills become homes for families who move into them to scavenge items in order to survive.
Visitors can step into a simulated garbage dump, while watching video images taken at a real landfill in Mexico, where parents are shown sorting items as their children play nearby in the trash.
As visitors move into the next room, they are assaulted by horrific images of burned Moldovan children who lie on makeshift beds of window screens to let the air circulate to their burns. An audio system projects their cries of pain due to the shortage of medicine.
Each year, hundreds of children are severely burned in this country.
They accidentally fall against the wood stoves and open fires that can be found in the living and sleeping areas of many of the homes. Moldova, which is the second poorest country in Europe, has a lack of medical facilities and those that exist are sorely in need of up-to-date equipment and supplies.
Medical Teams International noted the need and stepped in, transforming one of the burn units where these children were housed into a clean, modern surgical facility.
In another room, the problem of HIV/AIDS is presented in context using the country of Mozambique as an example.
Visitors learn that the disease has killed more than 30 million, four times the number of people in Washington.
One in four inhabitants lives with HIV/AIDS and one in 10 babies dies before the age of one.
A wall of paper dolls represents the harsh facts, showing that every day 1,000 infants are infected with HIV.
In response to the crisis, Medical Teams International has helped to establish mobile clinics and supply home-health kits, as well as anti-retroviral meds.
The final exhibit area deals with the trauma that refugees experience when they are displaced from their homeland.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a brutal civil war has been raging among rebel groups who are fighting over the control of the country’s mines.
Nearly 50,000,000 people have been affected by the conflict.
Over five million have died and one million have been displaced, many who have fled to Uganda. These refugees are dealing with loss, injury, poverty and often illness, specifically malaria, which if untreated, can lead to death.
A cut-out cardboard figure named Ben lies on a cot. Ben has malaria with a fever of 105 degrees and convulsions. He will be one of the lucky ones who survive, however, because he is getting anti-malaria drugs. Information provided emphasizes that malaria is a preventable disease and that nets save lives.
The final room of the exhibit is the marketplace, where visitors learn what they can do to help those in need.
Suggestions are given at various levels, ranging from hosting fundraisers to volunteering on a Medical Teams International team.
“The idea for this exhibit is to give people an understanding of the needs that exist in different parts of the world,” explains exhibit coordinator Shauna Smith. “We want visitors to experience not only the real need, but also the real hope that Medical Teams International provides. They see the before and after scenes of places that have been transformed by the organization’s volunteers and they realize that these situations are not hopeless.”
She adds, “The goal is to plant a seed through this awareness that encourages people to take some kind of action, big or small. Each person has the ability to make a difference.”
Smith notes that nearly 800 people have visited the exhibit since it opened in September, including local church, school and corporate groups.
She says that everyone is moved by what they see, as the exhibit has the ability to touch people and affect them in powerful ways.
“It’s an eye-opener,” comments Smith. “The experience introduces people to the needs that exist in the world in a way that makes them very real and urgent. It sparks a lot of meaningful discussion within groups.” She adds, “Many teachers and youth group leaders have told me that they think the exhibit is a great way to develop compassion in kids. They also say that the kids leave with the understanding that even though they’re young, they can still do something to help. We show them that if they skip five sodas, for example, they can use that money to buy a bed net, which will save someone’s life.
“When they see how easy it is to get involved, it inspires them and makes them more motivated to act.”
REAL.LIFE Exhibit is available to individuals and groups by appointment Monday through Friday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. For information or to schedule a tour of the exhibit, visit: www.medicalteams.org/RealLifeRedmond or call (425) 454-8326.