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Widows helping others

After Susan Retik and Patti Quigley lost their husbands on 9/11, they began helping women in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries.

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Susan Retik and Patti Quigley lead privileged American lives, 7,000 miles away from the hardscrabble existence of two Afghan sisters-in-law, Sahera and Sadiqa.

But when the four women met this month in Sahera's tiny mud-brick home in Kabul, Afghanistan, barriers of distance, culture, and class melted as they shared two powerful bonds: motherhood and widowhood.

"Our core values are the same," says Mrs. Retik, of Needham, Mass. "We want our kids to be healthy, we want them to be happy, we want them to be educated. It's the same."

What isn't the same is the treatment of widows in their respective countries. When Retik and Mrs. Quigley lost their husbands in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the two women, both pregnant at the time, received an outpouring of financial and emotional support.

By contrast, when Sahera and Sadiqa, who like many Afghan women use only their first names, became war widows, they became impoverished and largely ignored. "To be a widow in Afghanistan is the worst," Retik says. "You're not worth anything."

Stirred by the plight of the estimated 1 million widows in Afghanistan - nearly 50,000 in Kabul alone - Retik and Quigley began a journey born of tragedy and hope. In 2003 they established a foundation, Beyond the 11th, to help women in conflict-ridden countries. They made substantial personal donations from money they received after the attacks. To raise more money, they pedaled 270 miles from ground zero in New York to Boston as part of a fundraising bicycle trek. They collected $325,000 in the first two years. This year they hope to raise $250,000.

"Our goal is to help a woman become self-sufficient so she can give to her children what she didn't have for herself," Retik says, relaxing at home while her three children are at school.

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