A Needham woman who lost her husband in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and then co-founded an organization to improve the lives of Afghan widows received the 2010 Citizens Medal from President Obama at a White House ceremony today.
Susan Retik Ger started Needham-based Beyond the 11th with Patti Quigley of Wellesley , who also lost her husband in the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. The organization raises money for widows and their children in Afghanistan, a country that had provided refuge for the planners of the attacks.
" . . . nobody would have blamed Susan if she had turned inward with grief or with anger. But that isn’t who she is,'' Obama said. "So instead, she and another widow started “Beyond the 11th,” and this is a group that empowers Afghan widows affected by war and terrorism. And Susan says, “These women are not our enemy.” '
Retik Ger, who moved to Needham in 1999, said the organization's first big fundraiser was a three-day bike ride from Ground Zero in New York to Boston, which she will repeat next year on the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. This September, Beyond the 11th will host a local bike fundraiser in Needham.
"It's an incredible honor to be awarded this medal, and I hope that it shines a light on what Beyond the 11th does," said Retik Ger, who has remarried and has four children. "Widows in Afghanistan have a unique disadvantage ... they really are still very much in need."
Retik, among 13 people who received the award, was nominated by Kumu Gupta of Quincy who saw Beyond Belief, a 2006 documentary film about her work. Gupta, who was born in India , said she was touched and inspired by the way Retik Ger overcame her own misfortunes and bridged the culture gap between East and West.
“If there’s only one recipient in the entire country, it would have to be her,” said Gupta, who was also nominated for the Citizens Medal for her past work on several local commissions.
The citation, read aloud by a military aide at the White House, said in part, "The United States honors Susan Retik Ger for advancing women’s rights and demonstrating the power of America’s ideals.''
Retik said she visited the women helped by her foundation in Afghanistan in 2006 to hear their stories.
"They have very difficult lives," she said. "It was very humbling and made me feel like when I came home, I need to continue, I need to work hard."