Susan Dix Lyons
Susan Dix Lyons believes that villagers in the impoverished rural community of Boaco, Nicaragua deserve the same quality healthcare she can access from her home in Napa Valley, California, and she has set out to prove it’s possible. As the founder of Clínica Verde she says, “I want to change the paradigm of how we serve the poor. ‘Just enough’ isn’t good enough—everyone wants and deserves dignity. It’s an honor to be able to give that to them.”
“When we first opened our doors in January 2012,” she recalls, “everyone was curious and wanted to come, but they couldn’t believe a building so beautiful was for them, to provide them with health care for free.” The clinic, a sustainably designed building with spaces for community interaction and education, is a symbol of the respect that Susan believes every human being deserves. “Every mother and child matters,” says Susan. “Everyone deserves an opportunity, a chance to dream.”
After two years in operation the clinic provides high-quality health care, delivered with compassion, to more than 1,100 mothers and children each month in one of the poorest regions in Latin America. “One in four pregnancies occurs in girls under the age of 19, and chronic malnutrition is widespread. The poverty is unlike anything we could imagine in the U.S.,” Susan explains. “Once you see that, it’s really hard to turn away.”
Susan’s grandfather was a third-generation journalist who travelled internationally with her grandmother. Their purposeful life and concern for others had a profound influence on Susan. It was their interest in the wider world that prompted her to spend a year in Bogotá, Colombia in 1983 as a 16-year-old student with the Rotary International Youth Exchange. She says, “I came back with an acute sense of my own privilege and the injustices in the world. I wanted to make a difference.”
She volunteered throughout high school and college in homeless shelters, in soup kitchens, and as a Big Sister to a young girl in need. In her senior year of college, Susan started a tutoring program for young boys who were facing criminal trials. “I loved those boys, and it made me realize that I felt most energized and passionate when I was connecting with those who were being left behind,” she says.
In 2000, as a young journalist fresh out of college, Susan covered Nicaragua’s presidential election between Sandinista revolutionary Daniel Ortega and Violeta Chamorro, the widow of Pedro Chamorro. Pedro was the editor of the leading opposition paper to the brutal Somoza family dictatorship until his assassination in 1978. Pedro and Violeta had been good friends with Susan’s grandparents, and Susan remembered hearing stories of the Chamorros’ courage around the dinner table. Violeta won that election and rekindled Susan’s interest in the country she had heard about as a child.
Clínica Verde became a reality after four and a half years of hard work that began when Susan and her husband Tim went to Nicaragua with a group of friends who were building houses in rural villages. The poverty she witnessed first- hand on that trip moved her to do something more. At first she sent medical equipment to a local hospital, but she realized that sending goods was not the way she could best meet the people’s need for high-quality care.
Clínica Verde was created to fill that need. Susan today serves as CEO, and Cristiana Chamorro, Pedro and Violeta’s daughter and director of the Violeta Chamorro Foundation, is a Clínica Verde board member. Their friendship continues the family legacy that began many years ago.
For Susan, the work of Clínica Verde begins with health but reaches far beyond. “My goal will be realized when I see girls who were selling tortillas on the side of the road getting an education, believing in their strength and voice, and moving forward in their lives to help create change themselves,” Susan says. “Clínica Verde will be a bridge to transformation.”