News / USA

    9/11 Widows Help Afghan Women, Girls

    Demonstrating the power of American Ideals with 'Beyond the 11th'

    Susan Retik Ger and Patti Quigley visit a literacy class in Afghanistan.
    Susan Retik Ger and Patti Quigley visit a literacy class in Afghanistan.

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    Faiza Elmasry

    Moving beyond a tragedy takes strength, courage and, often, an effort to look beyond one's own pain to help others.

    That's the story behind Beyond the 11th. Susan Retik Ger and Patti Quigley lost their husbands in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

    Reaching out

    The women found solace, and a purpose, in reaching out to Afghan widows through community based education and employment.

    "I believe that's really where the rebuilding of Afghanistan will take place," Retik Ger says.

    Their non-profit organization, Beyond the 11th, provides Afghan widows with the support and resources they need to rebuild their lives and to help rebuild their country.

    Since their effort began in 2003, says Retik Ger, they've given grants totaling about $600,000 to non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan.

    "We pick income-generating programs because we believe that these women needed opportunity to provide for themselves and their families," she says. "If they can learn a trade or a skill to just help get them by, they will have an opportunity to send their children to school."

    On the ground

    In May 2006, Retik Ger and Quigley visited Afghanistan, and met many of the women who were directly benefiting from the grants. In Bamyan, a grantee organization, called Arzu, helps women earn an income by teaching them rug-weaving skills.

    "They are not only weaving the rugs and getting money, but also we require that no child under 15 can weave rugs," says Razia Jan, an Arzu spokeswoman. "They have to be in school. Then, we have a literacy program. Those women who couldn't even count a dollar can now read and write and they are helping their children. We are trying to hopefully get permission- a certification from the Ministry of Education- to have a kind of higher education."

    Arzu also runs the first community center for women in Afghanistan. It has a greenhouse where they can plant flowers and grow vegetables, and a washing area where they can shower and take care of personal needs. The women socialize at Arzu's tea club and their children can enjoy the playground.

    "We have 81 families in Bamyan. Each family has 20, 30 people," she says. "We help all of them. We have health education. These women haven't lost one child. We make sure that they get the vaccination. We're doing health workshops. So people are getting better."

    Jan credits Beyond the 11th for making all their progress possible.

    Honors

    Retik Ger was honored as a co-founder of the organization with the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second highest civilian award. Along with 12 others, she was recognized for her selfless service, an example of how one person can do big things.

    Retik Ger says helping others turned out to be the best way to help herself. She says it's rewarding to feel she has a role in helping women and widows in Afghanistan find their own voice and begin to rebuild their country.

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