Beyond the 11th

This is the name of a charity begun by two American widows, Susan Retik and Patricia Quigley: both women were mothers of small children and also heavily pregnant when their husbands died on 9/11, one in each of the planes that hit the Twin Towers.

Many other people lost their loved ones that day, but few have reacted as these women have done. Despite their grief and anger at the terrorists, Patti and Susan are actively engaged in charity work for the people of Afghanistan, the country where most of the hijackers trained before coming to the USA and committing their atrocity.

I heard Susan Retik interviewed on Radio National this morning to mark the 5th anniversary of the disaster. Before 9/11 she barely knew anything of Afghanistan, and her reaction to learning more about the Taliban and their oppression of women was to awaken her compassion in a very personal way based on her own recent tragedy: if life was so bad for women there generally, how much worse must it be for unsupported widows? And what could she do to help them, woman to woman?

From their website:

Patti and Susan were profoundly moved by the support offered by friends, family and strangers from around the world. They were cared for financially and emotionally and today they remain deeply grateful to all who helped them.

When the story of the 9/11 plot emerged, Patti and Susan, along with the rest of the world, learned that those responsible were trained in terrorist camps in Afghanistan. The military campaign to remove the Taliban and terrorist groups from the country drew attention to the plight of the Afghan people. Decades of conflict and strife ravaged the country, leaving tens of thousands of women without husbands to provide for them, a cultural necessity in Afghanistan.

As Patti and Susan struggled to recover from their loss, they felt a growing kinship with the overwhelming number of widows in Afghanistan. They recognized the incredible generosity they received and the absolute scarcity of help for their counterparts in Afghanistan. In 2003, Patti and Susan founded Beyond the 11th to help provide financial and emotional support to these widows and their children and to give them hope for a better future.

For the last three years, Patti and Susan have held a fundraising sponsored bike-ride from Ground Zero to Boston (where their husbands’ hijacked planes took off). The third ride finished yesterday. Riding away from Ground Zero back to Boston gives both women a sense of turning their back on what the terrorists tried to do, and focussing instead on refusing to bow to hostility against the people of Afghanistan for the actions of extremists.

Beyond the 11th establishes partnerships with non-governmental organizations working in Afghanistan. These organizations have long-term commitments to the region, strong grass-roots networks and are committed to assisting widows and their families to self-sufficiency. We work hand-in-hand with each organization to develop programs that address the needs of widows, such as childcare during skills and literacy training, psychological counseling to help the women overcome their loss, clothing to replace the burkas they are no longer forced to wear, and anything else needed to help a widow regain her independence.

Our grantees are CARE International, Women for Women International, and Arzu. We are proud to support these organizations. The grants from Beyond the 11th to these non-profits have helped over 500 widows on the road to self-sufficiency. With an average of almost six children each, this support has reached nearly 3,000 impoverished Afghans. We are overjoyed that our program is positively affecting widows’ lives. Self-sufficiency is a giant step in the direction of dignity.

This is a hugely admirable grass-roots charity, making real differences in the lives of women and children every day. Susan spoke of micro-loans and poultry-keeping training for widows so they can have chicken-coops next to their homes, which provide their families with much-needed protein and also a small income from the eggs. She also spoke of scholarships for young women, the first scholar training to be a midwife, a rare skill in Afghanistan which has the world’s second highest rate of maternal mortality.

Donations to Beyond the 11th can be made here.



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