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As a widow of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Susan Retik was showered with love and support from family, friends and even strangers who sent food, flowers and cash.
But when she watched the news and saw war widows in Afghanistan, she knew they had no such support system.
Retik and another Massachusetts woman who had also lost her husband on Sept. 11, 2001, decided to raise money for widows in Afghanistan, the same nation where their husbands' killers had trained as terrorists.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama will recognize Retik and 12 others with the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest honor that can be conferred on an American citizen.
Retik, 42, co-founded Beyond the 11th, a nonprofit foundation that has raised more than $600,000 over the last six years for job skills training, literacy classes, small business development and other programs to help Afghan widows.
Retik, of Needham, hopes the award will focus attention on the plight of Afghan widows from areas touched by conflict.
"After Sept. 11, I just felt the whole world supporting me and lifting me up. But these women don't have any of that," Retik said.
"In Afghanistan, women are already not treated like men, and when a woman is widowed, her status is knocked down a notch."
Retik and the group's co-founder, Patti Quigley, started by making a donation from the money they received after the Sept. 11 attacks from insurance, their husband's firms and strangers. They also raised money by riding their bikes from New York, where their husbands were killed, to Boston, where their flights to New York began.
Retik was pregnant and had two other children when her husband's plane slammed into the World Trade Center.
"I remember thinking, how am I going to get through this?" but immediately people helped me," she said.
Years later, Retik remarried and had another child.
"I feel like I'm OK; I'm all good," she said. "But these women in Afghanistan need our help and attention, so if winning this award can shine a light on them then it makes me that much prouder to receive it."
Beth Murphy, president of Boston-based Principle Pictures, made a documentary, "Beyond Belief," about Retik and Quigley in 2007.
"From the moment I heard about what Susan was doing, I was in complete awe of her. I just remember thinking, my God, here is a woman who has every reason to become xenophobic and yet she's choosing to do the opposite," Murphy said.
"She's a real person who is acting on the international stage in a really significant way."
This program aired on August 4, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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