Nonprofit workers take on the world Traveling the globe to confront problems is all in a day's work

December 16, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Doug Franklin was looking out the window of a five-seater plane taxiing to take off in Mozambique when he noticed gasoline pouring out of the wing tanks.

"They forgot to close the valves," said Franklin of Ellicott City. "We pounded on the pilot's cabin and yelled. The plane stopped. Guy with a ladder came and closed the valves. Then we took off."

Franklin, the director of social marketing of the International Youth Foundation is a committed world traveler who has many stories like this after making 80 trips to 39 countries for three nonprofit organizations. He has numerous area counterparts.

They work at nonprofit organizations with a global reach, such as Catholic Relief Services (CRS), 209 W. Fayette St., and two New Windsor agencies -- SERRV International of the Church of the Brethren and Interchurch Medical Assistance. CRS has 75 to 100 people who fly the world at least once a year; the others, more than 20.

In a typical week, a dozen officials from these social welfare groups pack light bags and depart from Baltimore to address social problems in exotic places.

They lead lifestyles that are adventurous and mundane, require coolness in the face of adversity and are risky for relationships.

"Travel is part of the job, but it takes a toll," said Franklin. He is a single parent whose 14-year-old son, Darryl, lives with him. When Franklin travels, the Canada plan is set in motion: His retired father, Richard, 75, flies down from Toronto to be with his grandson.

Darryl enjoys his grandfather but during a recent separation, he told his father by phone: "I can't wait for you to get back. His country-western music is driving me nuts."

Franklin acknowledged: "It's not a normal lifestyle. You're not at the family dinner table. No question, it led to my divorce. Our daughter lives with her mother.

"And at work, you're always playing catch-up," he said. "But it's the job."

International Youth Foundation, 34 Market Place, is an advocate for children worldwide. The group supports, for example, programs to prevent child labor and child prostitution in Thailand.

"If you want to talk with a Thai official about controlling teen-age prostitution, you have to do it face to face, not on the Internet."

The recent adventures of other Baltimore area travelers for nonprofit organizations are typical of dozens here. They consider travel a necessity, more fun at first than later, with effects that range from benign to corrosive on relationships with relatives and friends.

Thomas Price of Washington, a Catholic Relief writer and photographer, was exhausted after a 30-day whirlwind tour of five African countries. "In one three-hour period in Liberia, we were stopped at 32 checkpoints by the West African peacekeeping force. They looked for rebels and guns. It's emotionally wearing."

Robert Chase of Westminster, the SERRV executive director, whose group markets $5 million in crafts from developing lands, is wary when traveling on Russian trains. He takes a bicycle chain to secure his unlocked sleeping compartment. "Security is so bad, people lock themselves in. People buy tickets to get on the trains and rob people."

Donald Padgett of New Windsor is the pharmaceutical services director of a consortium of 13 relief agencies that dispenses drugs, medical supplies and advice. He lived without electricity or running water and moved constantly in Africa.

"On many trips, I never unpack the bag. In 17 days recently in Tanzania, I rarely slept two nights in a row in the same place."

Super travelers for world-oriented agencies are a special breed, said Xiomara Iglesias, 27, of Silver Spring, a travel consultant who is assigned full time to Catholic Relief workers around the globe.

"They are easygoing and flexible and don't show the pressure they're under," she said. "To save money on a flight home, I might ask someone in Madagascar to spend a night in Johannesburg. They'll do it to save us money.

"They're risk takers in unusual travel circumstances. Some carriers in Africa, for instance, are extremely unreliable. Our people will show up 90 minutes early for a scheduled 10 a.m. flight to learn the plane arrived early, filled up and left an hour ago."

The travelers have strict rules on eating and drinking.

In poor countries, Padgett never eats raw vegetables or the skin of fruits, makes sure food is heated, avoids greasy meals -- but loves goat meat.

To avoid stomach problems, Price buys bottled water, shuns ice cubes and eats lots of bananas.

Franklin, who travels in both hemispheres, avoids snacks and eats lightly on planes. Alcohol is out while flying, but he takes in a pub in London: "The trip's got to be worth it," he quipped.

They travel light.

Chase, 51, flies 100,000 miles a year, keeping up contacts with his big suppliers, checking the quality of handcrafts and making payments. "The older you get, the lighter your luggage gets. You pack less and less. One bag."

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