Suz Friedrich, employee #118, is Managing Director and Founder of JSI’s New Hampshire office, the Community Health Institute (CHI). Suz has been at JSI since 1985.
Why did you decide to make a career in public health?
When I was a kid, my dad, a civil engineer, took the position of expert advisor to the Ethiopian Highway Authority. While my Dad lived full-time in Ethiopia, my mom, sister, brother, and I joined him for the summers. Our neighborhood included a number of native villages of mud huts. It became a daily routine to join the kids in our neighborhood for a pick-up game of soccer. Inevitably someone ended up getting cut or injured since many of the kids played with no shoes. My Mom, having come from a long line of Peace Corp volunteers, started a small clinic to address our injuries after each game. As word spread, people began to show up for the clinic who had not gotten their injuries in the game. Our house became a de facto first aid station.
Our second summer in Ethiopia, one of my friends died of tetanus. We were stunned to realize none of the children had been vaccinated. We established a partnership with UNICEF and conducted an immunization clinic at our house. We had over 100 children appear from all over the region for the clinic. Our immunization clinic became an annual event.
As we became more aware of the need, our efforts to help the village children continued when we were back home. We conducted an annual clothing drive through the Girl Scouts, and were soon outfitting the whole village. We were welcomed back every year and a part of me will always be in Ethiopia.
“I have been able to build something I am proud of while still being a part of the JSI family!”
How did you wind up at JSI?
I was looking for a job after completing my masters in health administration and arranged an informational interview with an alumna of my alma mater. She had applied for a job at JSI and told me about it. She probably regretted tipping me off, because I got a job.
What attracted you to the organization?
When I came for my interview and saw the wonderful art on the walls and people walking around in dashikis, I thought, “This is where I want to work!” But I’d been offered at job in health policy at BU, so I had to keep putting them off while I hedged my bets on a JSI offer. I called Pat incessantly until she finally got back to me and said JSI would have me!
What was the atmosphere like back then?
I’d say it was like CHI is now. Small, committed, no place to hide, all for one and one for all.
Why did you move to New Hampshire?
Well, after 10 years of commuting two hours each way from NH to Boston and with two little kids at home (who I barely saw), I decided I needed a creative option to stay with JSI but reduce my commute. An RFP came out to establish the Community Health Institute as a public private partnership with the NH Department of Health and Human Services and I jumped at it. It has worked out wonderfully—I have been able to build something I am proud of while still being a part of the JSI family!
You’ve mainly worked with Health Services, but in 2000, you and your family, (daughters Katie and Liza, and husband Matt, a software developer for JSI) moved to Bangladesh so you could work on the Urban Family Health Partnership. What prompted this uprooting?
The time I spent in Ethiopia was such an important part of my life and has so much to do with who I am today. I really wanted my daughters to experience another, less fortunate part of the world. I was tempted to go back to Africa, but I wanted to challenge myself, too, and I didn’t know anything about Asia. So when the position of deputy chief of party opened up in Dhaka, I jumped again.
How did it go?
The work was incredibly satisfying. This was not to say that it was easy. I was frustrated by the patriarchal structure Luckily, I loved working with my JSI colleague, Amy Cullum, who was there doing behavior change communication for the project a year in advance of me. We were instant friends and took great satisfaction in our work to empower our staff to be independent and accountable for their own work. Later, back in the US, I was able to convince her to come to CHI, where she remains today.
Almost more than anything, I’m thankful that we were in Bangladesh before 9/11, so our time there was not tainted with anti-Muslim backlash. I actually left there on September 1, 2001, not because I was tipped off, but because Bush cut the USAID budget, so either I had to leave or many of the in-country staff would be let go. I am particularly glad that my children were able to live in a Muslim country which has given them a more objective and positive understanding of Islam. Something that is hard for many Americans to experience with the constant negative news.
What are some of the ways that your experience in Bangladesh affects your work today, in the US?
Now I understand so much more about how all of JSI works. I have the lingo of international work and USAID experience, and now I access all that information in my day-to-day domestic work. For example, we needed to order fridges to store H1N1 vaccinations in clinics across New Hampshire. So I consulted the BASICS projects to find out about temperature requirements, vendors, etc. I’m really big into cross-pollinating the work of Health Services with JSI International whenever possible. I encouraged sharing of US work with the International staff in the areas of emergency preparedness and the US safety net system.
If you didn’t work at JSI, what might you have been?
I really can’t even imagine. The cool part about JSI is that wherever my life chooses to go, JSI has accommodated me, from letting me hide my babies under my desk, to opening an office in NH, to traveling overseas and back. I’ve even rigged it to have my husband and kids work for JSI. It is a family affair!