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COUPLE BUILDS SCHOOL IN AFGHANISTAN IN RESPONSE TO SON'S DEATH ON 9-11

From The Catholic Observer, Nov. 17, 2006

By Mark E. Rondeau

WIILIAMSTOWN — Terrorists trained in and directed from Afghanistan took the life of their son on Sept. 11, 2001. Stunned and numb at first, Sally and Don Goodrich eventually responded by building a 25-room K-through-8 school for girls in that nation.

Peter Goodrich, 33, a products manager for a computer software company in eastern Massachusetts, was on Flight 175, the second plane to be crashed into the World Trade Center.

“He was our oldest son. He was the center of our family, a very funny person,” said Sally Goodrich. His job “allowed him to meet a lot of people from countries like India. He met Russian Jewish immigrants, Serbians, and he embraced them, and he embraced their differences. And it led him to a spiritual journey where he read the Bible, he read the Koran. He was extremely curious and open.”

The Goodriches spoke and showed slides of Afghanistan Oct. 22 to high school religious education students from Williamstown and North Adams in the hall of St. Patrick’s Church in Williamstown. Peter Goodrich grew up in Williamstown, and his mother is an administrator in the North Adams school system. The couple, who are not Catholic themselves, live in Bennington, Vt.

“What happens when you have a tragedy like 9-11 is that every part of your life changes,” Sally said. “In the beginning you’re not aware of that, you’re just sort of in shock, which is a blessing and it’s hard to feel things. But as time progresses you realize that everything that your life was before changes. It changes subtly.”

Three years after the attacks, Rush Filson, a Marine major serving in Afghanistan and a Goodrich family friend, wrote home in a letter to his parents “about a man that had transformed his life, a teacher who was in a very dangerous village,” Sally said.

The teacher had asked for school supplies. Learning about this, the Goodriches, who usually retreated to the seclusion of a lake on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks, decided instead to mark it by purchasing supplies for the teacher. Kathleen Rafiq, a journalist and humanitarian in Afghanistan, gave Sally the idea of building a school. Rafiq, like Filson, was one of several key people who helped make the project possible.

The Goodriches had $50,000 that had been given to them after Peter’s death. This money had formed the basis of the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation, though at first it was unclear what the foundation would do. “We couldn’t come up with a project that was really reflective of who Peter was. He embraced life, he was non-violent, he was generous, he was very curious. And it was difficult to find one thing that would define Pete.”

However, in the idea of building a school, “We knew that we were finally in touch with Peter’s spirit, or essence,” Sally said. “I just knew that Peter would be doing exactly what we were doing, that he would be curious to understand why 9-11 happened, and his response to it would have been nonviolent, a response to increase understanding.”

The site chosen was in Logar, a conservative province in the area of the Pashtun ethnic group. “We wanted to be in the Pashtun area,” she said. “They gave rise to the Taliban.”

At young ages boys and girls can go to school together, but once they become adolescents, they’re completely separated. The Swiss had already built a boys’ school in the vicinity. “Therefore we were able to help the girls,” Sally said. “And as I began to read about Afghanistan I understood the greater need for really helping girls.”

Another unexpected grace was the receipt of $83,000 from Peter’s estate, and this enabled them to proceed with the project. They used the design that Afghanistan communities were using for schools. The school was only supposed to cost $120,000, but a large wall necessary for both privacy and security added significantly to the cost. The school was conveyed to the Afghanistan government in January.

Don Goodrich, an attorney, is board chairman of the group Families of Sept. 11 and worked to establish both the Victims Compensation Fund and the 9-11 Commission. Still, he thinks the most effective thing he and his wife have done is get involved in education in Afghanistan.

“It’s at that level. It’s at the base level of people like the people in this room that the kind of change we needed to see take place is taking place,” he said. “And for me that’s the rewarding part of it.”

One sentence in The 9/11 Commission Report both exemplifies and inspires the couple’s work: “The United States should rebuild the scholarship, exchange, and library programs that reach out to young people and offer them knowledge and hope.” To this end, the Goodrich Foundation is sponsoring the studies of three students from Afghanistan in the U.S. Two of them attended the presentation at St. Patrick’s. Both in high school, one lives with Sally and Don, the other with Peter’s brother Foster and sister-in-law Janine. The Foundation also contributes to the living expenses of 50 orphans and their caretakers in Afghanistan.

The Goodriches hope to build another girls school in another Pashtun province. However, the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, and Sally said it has become much more dangerous.

“It’s important to me that we not leave Afghanistan, and I can tell you that there are remarkable, brave, courageous human beings that struggle to survive every single day,” Sally said. “And they do it with humor, and they do it with hospitality, and they do it with grace.”

Don said that people in Afghanistan live by an honor code and really expect people to keep their promises. In the year and a half after Sept. 11, the U.S. made a great many promises to bolster both institutions and infrastructure.

“We were going to give them opportunities to make their lives better, and we didn’t do it as effectively as we should have,” he said. “Had we done that, I think what we’re seeing today as a shift towards a more fragile situation in Afghanistan could have been avoided.”

Fr. William Cyr, pastor of the Catholic parishes in North Adams, asked Sally if Peter’s spirit led her to the project and the sense of peace she had spoken about during the presentation.

“I honestly had a big fight with God, as you can well imagine, and lost my faith and lost my trust,” she said. The first part of healing was “the gift of other people’s trust and faith in us and their expression of trust. And I thoroughly believe that God is in control of my life.

“I thoroughly believe that Peter is there. We’re doing the right thing. I have no doubt that Peter would be doing the same if we were in that plane, but I also now believe completely and absolutely that I am not in control of my life. And I received great spiritual comfort in Afghanistan, too.”

The Website of the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation is www.goodrichfoundation.org.

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Siebar: Solidarity in loss

The beauty of the province of Logar and the hospitality and suffering of the people there greatly impressed Sally Goodrich.

Goodrich has visited this province, or state, in Afghanistan several times in her successful effort to build a school for girls and otherwise provide aid. This was her response to losing her son in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Far from being a desert, Logar is in a broad, fertile, and beautiful valley, not far from the country’s capital of Kabul. “It’s very much like Vermont,” she said. “It has apple orchards and farmers.”

Hospitality is an overriding priority in the culture of Afghanistan, she said.

“It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. People may have nothing, but they’ll give you everything, in addition to taking care of you. And everywhere you go, you get green tea.”

After one visit to the school, Goodrich was invited to have some roasted corn while drinking tea in an orchard next to a brook. The corn was tough, however, like the kind farmers feed cows in the U.S., and she put it down after one bite. The man next to her picked it up and started to eat it. Someone explained to Goodrich that for someone to eat food another has left uneaten is a sign of respect in their culture.

“What I love about Afghanistan is that there are many ways of communicating that don’t require language, that really demonstrate that kind of profound respect for a guest,” she said. “In this case, I felt particularly comforted in this man’s presence, because his 22-year-old son had been shot and killed. They have a gas station. One day he asked to be paid for gas, and the result was that he was killed.

“In Afghanistan 1.5 million people were killed during the Russian invasion alone. Everybody you turn to has a story of loss,” she said. “It can be dislocation because they ended up being refugees. If they were refugees and children, they were not allowed to go to school in Pakistan and Iran. If they stayed in Afghanistan, the school system was completely devastated.”

— Mark E. Rondeau

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