Manchester Union Leader on Jennifer Poidatz, CRS/India

Here is the article on Jennifer Poidatz, who was interviewed by Roger Amsden when she was on home leave last month. We are able to reprint this with Roger’s permission.

Cause and effect

by Roger Amsden, Sunday News Correspondent
The Manchester Union Leader

Jennifer Poidatz, CRS/India. Photo by CRS.

Jennifer Poidatz has seen in vivid detail the genocides in Rwanda and Burundi, and the terrible toll of the 2005 tsunamis in Sri Lanka.

Since growing up in the Lakes Region, Poidatz has spent most of her adult life as a relief worker in trouble spots all over the world.

What amazes her most about her work, she said, is the resilience and courage of the people she tries to help: people who are victims of conflicts or acts of nature that they have no control over, who have lost family members and relatives, along with their homes, livelihoods and material possessions.

“They have an ability to bounce back and persevere. It’s amazing to me that people can maintain their dignity in times of crisis like the people that I’ve worked with have been able to do. As someone who lives in the Western world, I can never complain again about life here after having seen what people in these countries have had to endure,” she said.

Poidatz last year was named to head up all of Catholic Relief Services’ programs in India, which with over 1 billion people, is the world’s second-most populous nation.

Poidatz, who grew up in Meredith and graduated from Inter-Lakes High School in 1983, said she has been so inspired by the people she has worked with that she sometimes feels guilty about her work.

“I really feel that I get a lot more out of this than I give back. Hopefully I can pass that along to my children,” said Poidatz, who says that her own parents, Joe and Susan George, who now live in Ashland, helped her to shape her own view of the world by instilling in her the idea that people of all nations, faiths and colors should strive to live peacefully together.

“I’ve always had an interest in seeing other countries and other cultures and wanted a profession where I could do this as work. And becoming a relief worker was one way to accomplish that,” said Poidatz, who joined the Peace Corps right after she graduated from the University of Vermont in 1988 and spent two years in Benin, West Africa, managing a growth-monitoring program for Catholic Relief Services in 11 villages.

For the next two years she worked as a research assistant with the United Nations University Food and Nutrition Program, helping to develop an International Food Intake Directory to provide data on dietary intakes in developing countries. She earned her master’s degree in International Nutrition from Tufts University with her research.

After serving as intern with CRS in Ghana she was sent to Rwanda in 1994, which was in the throes of a genocidal civil war. There she helped start emergency relief and reestablished a CRS office. She also designed and implemented a feeding program for vulnerable groups and seeds and tools programs for resettled populations.

It was the first in a series of “crisis” assignments in countries devastated by ethnic or political violence. Stints followed in Haiti in 1995, Burundi, which was wracked with civil strife, in 1996 and Angola, during that country’s civil war in 1998. Most recently she was in charge of tsunami relief efforts in Sri Lanka.

She’s felt that her life has been in danger many times.

“There have been times when it’s been pretty tense. You’re being stopped at checkpoints by one group while there’s shooting down from the hillside by opposition groups. We usually travel with United Nations escorts but even then it’s at a lot of risk going into these areas,” she said.

Poidatz is married to François Poidatz, an engineer from France whom she met in Angola during the civil war there. Francois is also involved in humanitarian work as a consultant: He worked most recently in Indonesia before heading to Pakistan, where he’s working with earthquake relief crews.

The couple have two children, Gabriel, 6, and Madeleine, 3. Podiatz and her daughters were able to spend a few days late last month with her parents in New Hampshire.

“It was great to take them swimming in Squam Lake and enjoy some time with my family,” said Poidatz. After the break, she flew to India where she resumed overseeing 13 local CRS offices that work with nearly 3,000 partner organizations to carry out projects that promote social justice, equitable access to resources, and empowerment for marginalized groups. She said her office’s priorities include eradicating child labor and strengthening community-based care and support systems for families affected by HIV/AIDS.

Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency provides assistance to people in 99 countries and territories based on need, regardless of race, nationality or creed.

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