News / USA

9/11 Widow Turns From Tragedy to Helping Afghan Women

Susan Retik Ger visited Afghanistan and some of the women she helps with her organization, 'Beyond the 11th.'
Susan Retik Ger visited Afghanistan and some of the women she helps with her organization, 'Beyond the 11th.'


Faiza Elmasry

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks brought about many changes in American society.

The government established a new department to deal with terrorist threats. Airports instituted tough new security rules. Public awareness of Islam and Muslim countries grew and - in many cases - so did distrust and hate.

But one woman whose life was turned upside down on September 11th turned that personal tragedy into healing and hope for women half a world away.

Terrible loss

Susan Retik Ger doesn't like to remember September 11, 2001. Her husband was on American Airlines Flight 11 when hijackers seized control and flew it into the World Trade Center.

"My husband, David, was traveling for work," she says."I was listening to NPR on the radio and heard about the news of the day. I didn't realize that my husband was on that flight. When I got home, I was able to realize that it was the same flight. It was devastating. I had two very young children. I was pregnant with our third at the time. It was what everybody can imagine, your worst, worst nightmare coming true."

But she says, the support she received helped her deal with the pain and loss.

"Not just from my friends and my family who were amazing, but from the larger community, strangers, from around the country and even around the world, sent me letters, notes, cards and handmade quilts," she says. "People were cooking us meals and I felt all that support."

When American forces went into Afghanistan to pursue Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and others responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Retik Ger says she realized one result of this military response would be more widows.

Susan Retik Ger with local friends in Kabul
Susan Retik Ger with local friends in Kabul

Beyond the 11th

"I knew how devastating it was to be a widow with young children," she says. "My initial thought was who is helping those widows in Afghanistan. I began to do some research and learned that, for example, under Taliban, women were not allowed to go to work, women were not allowed to go to school. I learned that when a husband is killed or dies, the woman doesn't get that husband's property so, often times, she finds herself homeless. I didn't experience any of this."

She tried to think of ways to help Afghani women.

"My initial idea was to reach out to one woman and her family, she explains. "So many people reached out to help me. Then, I realized that the amount of money could help more than just one family. It snowballed and Beyond the 11th came to be."

In 2003, Retik Ger cofounded Beyond the 11th with Patti Quigley, who also lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks.

"It's to raise money, and it's to raise awareness for the plight of the widows in Afghanistan," she says.

Over the last seven years, Beyond the 11th has given about $600,000 in grants to support income-generating programs for those women.

Inspiring others

Retik Ger's passion inspired her 12-year-old son. He and a group of his friends founded an organization after the earthquake in Haiti. It's called Soccer for the Next Generation.

Susan Retik Ger receives the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second highest civilian award, from President Barack Obama.
Susan Retik Ger receives the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second highest civilian award, from President Barack Obama.

"They decided that they wanted to send new and used soccer balls to the kids in Haiti," she says. "So one of the programs that 'Beyond the 11th' had made a grant to Afghanistan was for women to hand sew soccer balls in their homes. So the money my son raises is going to purchase handmade soccor balls made by widows in Afghanistan."

Susan Retik Ger's work caught the attention of the White House, and last month, she was one of 13 recipients of the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second highest civilian award. She was honored for advancing women's rights and demonstrating the power of America's ideas.

Presenting the medal at a White House ceremony, President Barack Obama said, "Nobody would have blamed Susan if she had turned inward with grief or with anger, but that isn't who she is."

Retik Ger agrees, it's not.

"I didn't want the terrorists to win and just the world to remember 9/11 about hatred," she says. "Why not make 9/11 about giving something good for your fellow human beings."

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs