Skopje, Macedonia is a long way from Tehama County, but to former Red Bluff resident Michael Fritz it is home. Fritz, who graduated from Red Bluff Union High School and lived here from 1960 to 1968, joined the US Agency for International Development in 1988 and traveled the world.

"It's offered me not only the opportunity to interact with a whole range of cultures in Asia and Europe, but the kinds of things we do really do make a difference," Fritz said in a phone interview Thursday from Washington, DC, where he was attending a US AID conference.

Fritz started working internationally while in college.

"I left (Red Bluff) in 1968 to attend Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore. and got into an international study program in Tunisia in 1969, and the rest is history," Fritz said.

After returning from Tunisia, Fritz finished his bachelors with honors in psychology and statistics and received a Masters in Business Administration from Portland State University.

In the 1970s, Fritz was traveling in Zaire with friends and ran into some US AID workers.

After discussing the volunteers' jobs and hearing their enthusiasm, Fritz applied at 38.

US AID is a government agency for international development that works with developing countries on a whole range of development issues including education, health, disaster relief and agriculture.

"The list (of what we do) is almost endless, but depends on the primary needs of the country we're working in," Fritz said. "One of the things that makes us particularly good at what we do is we have a physical presence. We feel it's really important to have that personal relationship in order to be effective."

Fritz is the mission director for Macedonia and has served in a variety of roles, starting as an international development intern and continuing as an executive officer in Cote d'Ivoire, Burundi, Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Fritz was a Washington desk officer to the Regional Center for Southern Africa in Botswana, a supervisory executive officer for the Global Bureau in Washington, deputy mission director to the Central Asian Republics and mission director in Bulgaria.

In August 2008, Fritz moved to Macedonia and his wife, Susan, is the deputy mission director in Kosovo, about two hours away.

Fritz has a staff of 30 people, including nine Americans, working in the areas of education, democracy, government and economic growth.

"We have $20 million a year in programs in a country about the size of Vermont with about 2 million people," Fritz said. "With that amount of money we can reach almost every municipality, which is equivalent to a county, within Macedonia."

While $20 million sounds like a lot of money, Fritz said it's not a lot for the kind of work the group does. One project is refurbishing about 120 primary schools to make them more energy efficient so students can learn, he said.

The group works to equip and train teachers and to help improve school curricula, he said.

"We try to design an exit strategy and sustainability in our programs," Fritz said. "We want our programs to have a long-term impact on the country."

For more information visit www.usaid.gov or e-mail mfritz@usaid.gov.

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Julie Zeeb can be reached at 527-2153, extension 115 or jzeeb@redbluffdailynews.com.

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Staff Writer Julie Zeeb can be reached at 527-2153, extension 115, or at jzeeb@redbluffdailynews.com