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PATRICIA QUIGLEY AND SUSAN RETIK

Moving beyond our losses on 9/11

THREE YEARS ago our husbands were killed in an act of terrorism that set our families on a path we never could have predicted. Branded as "9/11 widows," we received overwhelming support, not only from our family and friends, but also from complete strangers. Our mailboxes were filled with cards and letters from children from around the world, and our doorsteps were piled with quilts from church groups and toys for our children. All of this was in addition to the support of the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Massachusetts 9/11 Fund, and various elected officials. At the same time, we saw images broadcast from places like Afghanistan, where terrorism has been a fact of daily life for decades. We were moved by stories of the plight of women, and particularly widows, who suffered under the brutal rule of the Taliban. After more than two decades of conflict in Afghanistan, it is estimated that there are nearly 50,000 widows in Kabul alone.

Since the liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban, life for Afghan women has improved, but that has generally not been the case for widows. Not only does an Afghan widow lose possession of her husband's property after his death, but most widows, illiterate and unskilled, are forced to beg just to survive.

The two of us never had to worry about whether or not our children would be fed or would have a safe place to sleep at night, but we still felt connected to our Afghan counterparts by virtue of our sadness and loss.

As a result, we founded Beyond the 11th, a nonprofit organization to aid widows affected by war and terrorism (see www.beyondthe11th.org). We partnered with two organizations already working in Afghanistan to provide critical support to women. Those organizations -- CARE International and Women for Women International -- are working with us to create programs specifically tailored to the needs of Afghan widows.

Our goal is to provide financial assistance for present survival needs and training for future self-sufficiency. On a more personal level, we hope to create a connection between Americans and Afghans to remind us all that we are not so different from each other.

Our funds will help support CARE's Humanitarian Assistance for the Women of Afghanistan program, which provides food assistance, health education, and opportunities for vocational training and employment for widows. The program distributes a supplementary food ration to more than 11,000 widows and their children in Kabul, serving approximately 66,000 people.

Women for Women International was one of the first international development groups to establish a program for women in the post-Taliban era. Since its launch in August 2002, Women for Women International has worked with nearly 5,000 women, many of them widows, distributing more than $400,000 in direct aid.

Our fund-raising efforts culminate today with the completion of a 275-mile bike trek from Ground Zero in New York, where our husbands' final flights ended, back to Boston, where their final journey began. Today, as the two of us cycle into Boston with 200 other riders -- each of us representing one of the 202 New England victims of the Sept. 11th attacks -- we hope, in some small way, to help break the cycle of hatred that irrevocably changed our lives. While we will never forget our loved ones and the significance of that horrible September day in 2001, we also seek to move Beyond the 11th.

Patricia Quigley of Wellesley lost her husband Patrick on United Airlines Flight 175. Susan Retik of Needham lost her husband David on American Airlines Flight 11. 

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