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Sept. 11 widows aid women in Afghanistan

Beyond Belief, a film following the journey of two women from Boston to the rubble of Afghanistan, was screened at the University. Susan Retik, one of the co-founders of the Beyond the 11th organization, was at the University to talk to the students.

Dean Karen Dentler had heard of Retik through an old friend who went on Retik's bike ride from Ground Zero to Boston. When Dentler contacted Retik, who turned out to be a fellow Colgate University graduate, she was given a quick confirmation. The event was extended across all campuses and several University departments, Dentler said.

Retik and her partner Patti Quigley were both very personally affected by the attacks on the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Both women were pregnant when their husbands kissed them and their other children goodbye.

"I had been living the perfect American life," Retik said. "I went from living the American dream to being in the middle of America's nightmare."

Retik's husband was on American Airlines Flight 11 to Los Angeles.

After dropping off her son and daughter at their schools, she drove to the nearby grocery store. It was in the car when she heard the devastating news. American Airlines Flight 11 had been hijacked, and had been flown into one of the towers.

Retik knew at that moment she had lost her husband Dave, forever. There was no doubt that her husband had not missed the flight.

"His last words were ‘I gotta go, I'm boarding,'" Retik said.

Both women were met with sympathy and support from their community, country and family, but the grief was still too much to bear.

One day, an Oprah show featuring the women of Afghanistan caught Retik's attention. On the show it said that there are about one million widows in Afghanistan and fifty-thousand in Kabul alone. Who helped them, the way Retik and Quigley's kind friends and family had? Who provided them with food and shelter and clothes?

"What happened to those widows?" Retik asked herself. "If I could help one woman, the way many had helped me, maybe she would have the time to grieve."

In the fall of 2003, Retik and Quigley decided to help the widows in Afghanistan, women just like themselves, but facing so much worse. The organization wanted to ensure that widows became self-sufficient, and that they learned a skill so they could eventually send their children to school. This way the widows from two different worlds could turn hatred into something beautiful.

"Her story about the tragic death of her husband was upsetting, but the way in which she coped with her grief was so uplifting," said School of Arts and Sciences first-year student Lavina Jethani. "It made me see how one person with an idea and a will can really change others' lives."

The two women were faced by many who questioned their plan.

"Why would you want to help them?" many would ask Retik and Quigley.

"It can't be us and not them," Retik would reply. "It sounds corny but we truly are one people."

The stories of some women had a profound affect on Retik and Quigley. A beautiful woman named Sahera had three children, just like Retik, and each suffered from malnutrition. Her mother-in-law has never known a day of happiness, as all seven of her sons died.

Retik and Quigley formed a connection with such women, who maintained their strength and hope, despite the adversities they face.

"I thought that Retik's journey and story were extremely inspirational, and I believe that it takes a very strong person to accomplish what she had done," said School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Galina Ryvin.

Quigley does not want to be known as the Sept. 11 widow anymore and has stepped down from the public platform; however, she still continues to aid widows in Afghanistan.

Retik is now remarried and is moving on for the sake of her three young children, who try to comprehend the truth of the event that murdered their father.

"I was happy before I met Dave, I was happy with Dave, and one day I will be happy without him," she said.

At the end of her talk Retik emphasized the privilege and power we have to use our voices. She moved onto the oncoming November election and said that everyone has the opportunity to vote, and requested that each who is eligible take advantage of that privilege.

"Retik's story is entirely moving, and her work will impact others for years to come," said University sophomore Lena Fleming.

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