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Meet the 9/11 widow raising funds for Afghan widows

Susan Retik

JIM WATSON | AFP

Susan Retik Ger wipes away a tear after US President Barack Obama awarded her the 2010 Citizens Medal.

Cerith Gardiner - published on 09/11/21

Susan Retik poured her grief into love for other women and children in need.

Susan Retik was grocery shopping when she heard about Flight 11 crashing into the North Tower. She abandoned her plans to rush home and check what flight her husband David had taken. Tragically, he was on the flight, and had actually been sitting next to one of the terrorists.

The pregnant widow received an outpouring of love from the world. She was so marked by the support she received from loved ones, neighbors, and complete strangers that she decided to give something back.

Her daughter Dina, who was born after the attacks, shared with The Guardian how her mother “took a step back, and looked across the world: over in Afghanistan, she saw how many widows just like her were being treated so badly and felt sickened. Women who had lost their husbands were treated like they were worthless. At first, Mum wanted to try and help just one woman in a situation like hers; she started small.”

Retik joined forces with another 9/11 widow, Patti Quigley, and the two founded Beyond the 11th — a non-profit that helps Afghan widows and children. Susan flew to Afghanistan to see first-hand what difficulties these neglected groups were facing:

“We mainly tried to focus, especially in the beginning, on income-generating programs. so that the women can learn a skill or a trade,” explained Susan with CBS Boston.

The foundation was effective over the years, and now with the Taliban in control once more, Susan is determined that all their efforts will continue to have a positive effect:

“There has been improvement in Afghanistan. It’s a very difficult country and it’s not like everything was okay prior to the Taliban takeover. However, there was progress that was made. You can’t un-educate kids,” Susan pointed out.

She hopes in particular that the women have been given the means to find their voices and speak out:

“All the women who have been, for the past 20 years, fighting for their rights and women have become journalists and doctors and lawyers and in government and they’ve used their voice. I don’t think they’re going to back away so easily.”

And Susan is determined to keep helping these vulnerable groups, especially in light of the recent Taliban uprising.

With the 20-year anniversary of 9/11 in people’s minds, Susan will be embarking on a 260-mile bike ride that will set off from Ground Zero and arrive in Boston three days later. With the support of her family and friends, once more the “Beyond the Bike” fundraiser will hopefully go a long way in raising precious funds.

As she explained, “there’s always this balance between honoring and remembering those that were killed on 9/11 and also why we’re doing it: raising money for Beyond the 11th.”

While Susan’s efforts are truly inspiring, the fundraising has also given her daughter a beautiful lesson: “I’m so proud that from her pain, Mum decided to show kindness to others. When so much of the United States was filled with hatred – war, bigotry and violence – she was full of love.”

Dina will be joining her mom and her family on the grueling bike ride to honor her dad, and will hopefully find out as much as she can about the man she never met, but whom she holds firmly in her heart.

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9/11Acts of KindnessInspiring stories
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