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He's a Foot Soldier in the War on African Hunger

February 21, 1986|the View staff

As a publicity stunt, it's not entirely original. Still, Roger Whitehead's Walk Across Africa should have an effect. It's not the easiest hike, after all: 2,800 miles across Central Africa, from the Atlantic to the Indian coasts through beautiful and physically inhospitable areas, in searing heat and jungle rainstorms.

Whitehead, 27, a British-born research psychophysiologist at UCLA and veteran mountaineer, is hoping the 10-month walk will raise some $1.5 million for Direct Relief International, a Santa Barbara-based medical relief organization. (He also hopes the costs of the expedition--$15,000 for travel, food, equipment and medical expenses--will be underwritten.)

Whitehead claims the idea for the walk, which starts April 7 in Doula, Cameroon. He's never been to Africa, always wanted to go and he was going to be leaving UCLA anyway, he said. (His wife, Christine French, a word processor at UCLA, has been accepted at a graduate school in England to study international relations.)

Still, there are easier ways to get away from tourists. "I guess you could say my thinking was humanistic," he said. "But after all the publicity about Ethiopia, well, it heightened my awareness. I wanted to do something. And what I'm good at is surviving in the wilderness."

He does have some apprehensions. One is "just staying healthy," he said. "If I get sick, it would really slow me down."

However, if all goes according to schedule, Whitehead will walk into Mombasa, Kenya, on Dec. 28--his feet tired, his journal filled and, he hopes, the feeling that he can look back and say, "These are lives saved."

Papers From the Past

Optometrists are used to dealing with spectacles, but Dr. William Coleman of San Bernardino can also furnish a different type.

For 34 years now he has been collecting historical American documents, and from time to time gives lectures and has exhibits. Such was the case last week at Cal State San Bernardino.

There was a typed page from President John F. Kennedy's first manuscript of "Profiles in Courage" with his notations in the margins. There was a paycheck for $6,750, dated April 30, 1936, issued to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and endorsed by him. And even a patent-seeking letter to the head of Bolivia, signed by inventor Thomas Edison.

"My first acquisition was in 1952, when I visited an antique fair at the old Pan-Pacific Auditorium and went home with a military discharge paper signed by President George Washington," said Coleman, 59. "Ever since, I've been hooked."

Lending a Helping Hand

Yolanda Lopez Flowers, a San Gabriel resident, was reared in Los Angeles' inner city. She has watched the influx of refugees from Central and South America and she has watched the changes at the 10-year-old Hospitality Free Clinic at 561 S. Gladys Ave., which provides prenatal care, birthing classes, psychiatric counseling and basic health care to the area's poor.

An administrative aide for Xerox Corp., Flowers had been a part-time volunteer at the downtown clinic for 18 months, translating and doing paper work. Recently, she petitioned the company for a full-pay, nine-month leave to act as an assistant administrator for the clinic, which is run by volunteers.

She was granted the leave and has been working at the clinic full-time for a month now, looking for ways to do a "little bit more."

Most of the clinic's patients are women needing prenatal care, said Flowers, the mother of three children. The women are given free medication and vitamins, and are cared for at the clinic until it is time to deliver. Most have their babies at county hospitals, she said.

"This is the only place most of them have to go," Flowers said, "and most of them don't come until their last trimester."

Since Xerox pioneered the leave-of-absence program 15 years ago, 328 employees have served the community in a field of their choice, including work with the elderly, handicapped, sick, poor, prisoners and children. This year 13 men and women nationwide are working in various projects, six of them in California.

'Polly Wants a Video'

With lines like "Hello" and "I'm a green chicken," Donald Williams' new line of videos isn't likely to captivate most people, but it may prove irresistible to a few birdbrains out there.

"Teach Your Bird to Talk," the title of the instructional videotapes from Video Data Services of Roanoke, Va., is narrated by a human voice. But the real stars are two Amazon parrots who recite five words or phrases on the two tapes.

"Birds learn better from birds," said Williams, who is president of the company. When they fail to talk, the owner is usually to blame, he said.

"After they say 'Hello' 2,000 times, people often begin to lose patience," Williams said.

School Boosters Lauded

Born in Los Angeles in 1901, Ruben Finkelstein remembers horse-drawn wagons delivering scrap metal to his father's business.

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