Teal: What programs are you excited to potentially fund in the future?
Retik: The organization is called Mountain to Mountain, and we haven’t made the grant yet. We’re still trying to work it all out. They contacted me because they knew that Beyond the 11th gave to widows in Afghanistan and they wanted to reach out to us to see if we could work on something together. Discussing all the different programs [they sponsor] just really hit hard in my heart.
[For the skilled birth attendant program] they take women from these rural areas and bring them together for a four-week intensive training program where they learn the basics of sanitation and nutrition to bring babies into this world in a healthy way along with keeping the mothers healthy. Oftentimes it’s a two-day donkey ride to the nearest health care facility. And by the time they get there, it’s too late. So, you know, there are no prenatal checkups. And there’s nothing until the baby’s ready to come out. And by then, oftentimes, it’s too late if there were any issues. So, the women that trained in these programs will have most likely only up to a fifth grade education. It’s really basic stuff. But they’re doing it in such a way that even at that point it will save lives. And then these women will go back into their communities and they will receive a stipend so that they can do this work. And, ultimately they will be paid by women who use their services.
Teal: Through your work with Beyond the 11th you’ve become an expert on women in Afghanistan. What do you wish people better understood about Afghan women? Particular Afghan widows?
Retik: What I want people to know is that these women cannot be abandoned because they’re just like us. They are the same people just living in a different country. They all want the same things for themselves and their families the way we do. I think that people oftentimes put these countries in a different category as if, eh, those women don’t feel the same thing we feel cause they have lived this their whole lives or because they’re this or they’re that.
But, we really are all the same. And we wouldn’t want these things for our daughters or our mothers or ourselves. And, so, what I want people to know is that we need to give them the opportunities that we have here. Women need access to education.
The country will not move forward a 100 percent no matter how many bombs we use, how many soldiers are on the ground if the entire country’s not educated, they will continue to spiral downward, period. And, so, we need to continue to focus on providing education, skill training, jobs. That’s really the answer. It is not rocket science. It’s what we need to do. And we just cannot stop until they have those opportunities.
And I keep getting jazzed about all these different programs, and so, I feel like I can’t stop because these are such simple, easy ideas.
And if nobody else is focused on it, how can I say no? I have to do my part. We’re a small organization. We are not going to change the world. But, the women who partake in the programs that we make grants to, without a doubt, their lives will change. And without a doubt, the lives of their children will be that much better. And, so, again, it might be a small population of people. But, knowing that we can affect change in the lives of some people has to make us feel better than none. We can help one person, 50 people, it’s better than none.
Teal: You’ve done a lot of incredible work through Beyond the 11th. And your life post-9/11 has changed a lot too. You’ve remarried, you’ve had another baby, but, still, somehow most of the focus is on your role as a 9/11 widow. How does that make you feel?
Retik: I hate it. I do. When I first speak to somebody who wants to interview me and they always want me to tell them about that day. I don’t want to tell you about it. It’s so personal and I don’t really want to start thinking about it because it makes me upset. But, I know it’s what people are interested in, and I’m not naive to think that I can completely sever it. Because, unfortunately, people are not so moved by widows in Afghanistan, and that’s my passion. And if I want people to get jazzed about the cause then I have to just keep saying it.