9/11 Widows Help Afghanistan War Widows

The Associated Press
Thursday, May 11, 2006; 2:20 PM

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The two American women walk down a fly-infested alley where sewage from mud huts drains onto the dirt walkway. In a tiny backyard, they find two dozen chickens, five children and one Afghan war widow.

Patti Quigley and Susan Retik _ whose husbands were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks _ decided to use the financial support they received afterward to help war widows in Afghanistan, where the al-Qaida planners of the terror strikes found harbor. On Thursday, they met for the first time one of the recipients of their donations _ an Afghan mother who now has a small chicken farm.

The Americans, their heads wrapped in scarves out of respect for local tradition, peppered her with questions: How many chickens do you have? How many eggs do you get? What do you do with the money?

She answered: The chickens produce 10 eggs a day. The family eats some of them and sells the rest. She buys food and school supplies with the money.

Retik then asked what she had traveled across the world to learn: Is your life better because of this program? The woman, whose small home has dirt floors and drapes for doors, answered honestly:

"It's OK, but not great," said Ahqela, who has only one name and says she is 35, but looks far older. Her husband died in Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s. "I can at least buy some things with this money."

Quigley and Retik were both pregnant when hijacked jets carrying their husbands crashed into the World Trade Center, and met after the attacks. Retik saw an Oprah Winfrey show on Afghan women soon after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, and the two widows decided to help Afghan women.

"The differences were so stark between what we were receiving and what they had," said Retik, 38, who has a son, 8, and two daughters, 6 and 4, and lives in Needham, Mass.

"We already had everything we could want," said Quigley, 42, who has two girls, 10 and 4, and lives in nearby Wellesley, Mass.

The women made what they characterize as a "substantial" donation of seed money for the Afghan programs from the financial support they received after the attacks _ money from strangers, their husbands' companies and from insurance.

Then in 2004 they created Beyond the 11th, a nonprofit foundation to aid widows in areas touched by conflict. They've held two fund-raisers _ bike rides from Ground Zero to Boston _ raising $325,000. They hope to raise $250,000 this year.

About $170,000 of their money has gone to income-generating programs run by CARE International. They have also made donations to Women for Women International and to Arzu Rugs, an Afghan program that teaches women to weave rugs.

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