If the world's in a crisis, David Andrew Strobel tries to help

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David Andrew Strobel is one of those guys who's fluent in Spanish and English, can get by in Guarani, Portuguese and German, and has a working knowledge of Bosnian/Serbo-Croatian.

You know the type?

I didn't either. I had to look up Guarani to find out it's an indigenous language of Paraguay. That's one of many countries Mr. Strobel has called home these past couple of decades as he's bounced across the world with the Peace Corps, the American Red Cross and the like.

Lately, he has awakened most mornings in Bangkok, Thailand, but his Red Cross territory stretches many thousands of Asian miles, from Nepal through Bangladesh and Myanmar to the Philippines. All of that is a long way from North Hills High, but Mr. Strobel spent 30 hours on planes to get back to the States and receive the school's Distinguished Alumni Award on Thursday, along with Kim McLoughlin, a research chemist and inventor.

Mr. Strobel, 45, didn't fly all that way for the congratulatory hardware. He had Red Cross meetings in Washington, D.C., before the event, and the morning after, he got up at 4:30 to catch a flight back to D.C. for more sit-downs. Talking with him, I got the feeling he'd much rather be making the world a little better than sitting still.

But I kept him on the phone because I figured that if there's room in this paper for stories on quarterbacks, felons and socialites, there should be room for a few hundred words on a humanitarian who went pro. So what struck the Ross native about home after being away so long?

"Maybe the lack of connectivity to the rest of the world,'' he said Thursday.

He'd spent the morning watching CNN. The stories were largely about tornadoes in Texas. The 13 twisters killed six people and injured dozens. That certainly merited coverage, but he saw nothing about a cyclone he was tracking in Bangladesh and Myanmar that was threatening about 9 million people. (The Post-Gazette ran a brief Thursday on Cyclone Mahasan that said it weakened and dissipated, causing less damage in Bangladesh than feared and sparing Myanmar almost entirely. Yet at least 45 people died.)

Sometimes we don't realize how blessed most of us are.

"If you have money in the bank and in your wallet, and some spare change, you're among the top 8 percent of the world's wealthiest people,'' Mr. Strobel told me, as he would later tell the audience at the North Hills High ceremony,

He credits his parents for his sense of duty to humanity. His father, Robert, is a Lutheran minister and his mother, Joyce, a church musician. His wanderlust is his own.

After getting his master's degree in international affairs from Ohio University in 1991, Mr. Strobel went to work as a construction supervisor for Habitat for Humanity in rural Georgia. From there, he joined the Peace Corps, implementing clean water and first aid programs in Paraguay.

He worked through the 1990s with various charities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Central America and the Caribbean, then joined the Red Cross in 1999. After working in supervisory roles for six years in Latin America, he has spent almost eight years working in South and Southeast Asia.

Even reading his resume is exhausting. There have to be easier ways to see the world, but he's gotten to scuba dive in a lot of strange waters and has seen places most tourists wouldn't care to look. He says what works in Texas also works in Asia: The Red Cross trains local responders to handle crises so they can begin digging their way out of messes before any rescue workers fly in.

When he wakes up in a place like Nepal -- assuming he's slept -- "I feel privileged for the opportunity to be in such a beautiful place and serve people.''

This might be a strange way to end this, but I found myself thinking about this great line in "The Simpsons Movie'' where the Albert Brooks character, a White House appointee and phony humanitarian, says, "I'm a rich man who wanted to give something back. Not the money, but something.''

Mr. Strobel chose a simpler route. He never worried about getting rich and got straight to the good parts of a life well lived.

mobilehome - brianoneill

Brian O'Neill: boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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