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.'

Multimedia

Audio
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

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Puerto Rico Defaults on $58M Debt Payment

Payment was due Saturday, default is first in country's 117 years as a United States possession More

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs