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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More