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Their Compassion Is 'Beyond Belief'

October 1, 2010 - Betsy Bethel
I received this press release in my inbox this morning and I had to share it. Here it is, verbatim:

Pittsburgh — The New Hazlett Theater will host a screening of "Beyond Belief," a documentary about the extraordinary humanitarian efforts of two suburban Boston mothers who both lost husbands in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and turned their grief to a mission of compassion and peace on behalf of Afghan widows.

Susan Retik, co-founder of the charitable foundation Beyond the 11th and winner of a 2010 Presidential Citizen’s Award, will answer questions after the film.

Retik and Patti Quigley, each pregnant and the mother of toddlers at the time, lost their husbands on the two planes from Boston that hit the World Trade Center. Strangers until shared tragedy forged their bond, the women realized that imminent U.S. war with the Taliban — thought to have harbored the 9/11 attackers in Afghanistan – was certain to produce more widows like themselves.

"We couldn’t bear the thought," says Retik. "We knew that unlike us, Afghan widows would receive no outpouring of love and support. In fact, they are often rejected by their in-laws and turned out onto the street. There is no life insurance, no social safety net," Retik explains.

Beyond the 11th, the foundation Retik co-founded in 2003 with Quigley, who has since stepped down, began with the notion of helping just one Afghan widow. To date, it has helped thousands of widows — and their children — through intensive job training and literacy classes.

“For these women, the first time they generate and control their own income is also the first time they control their own destiny,” says Retik.

"Beyond Belief," Boston filmmaker Beth Murphy’s stirring documentary of Retik and Quigley’s 2006 Afghanistan trip to meet the women Beyond the 11th serves, will have its Pittsburgh premiere at the north side’s New Hazlett Theater. View a trailer of the film at

— — —

I am in awe of these two women. I sit here at my desk and think, "What am I doing to make a difference?" (emphasis on "I"). The empathy and compassion of these women is astounding, especially considering the me-me-me mentality and all the hatefulness and ugliness that is exhibited everywhere you turn in this country and around our ever-shrinking globe.

Being in this business, I meet people who are like these women from time to time. It so happens that I've had the privilege of meeting and interviewing two in the past two months. Natalie Committee, a Wheeling Central and WVU grad, is — at age 23 — serving girls and women who were kidnapped and made into sex slaves by the Lord's Revolutionary Army in northern Uganda. Some of these teen girls have three children born in captivity; most were sexually mutilated; all were humiliated and degraded every day of their lives until their release. Natalie is living in a mud hut and showering from a bucket (but, amazingly, she does have Internet a couple hours a day!) in order to serve these women, teaching them to make their way as businesswomen in the Ugandan marketplace.

Don Schoendorfer is an Ohio native (now in L.A.) whose visit to Morocco with his wife in 1979 changed his life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of handicapped individuals and their families in dozens of Third World countries. He is the founder of Free Wheelchair Mission, which distributes lightweight, inexpensive yet durable wheelchairs the world over. The Ohio Valley has taken this mission and run with it, so far raising more than $660,000 to purchase more than 10,000 wheelchairs. Don said this community's generosity is "outrageous." Here's an excerpt from the article I wrote about Don and his mission that ran Sunday, Sept. 19 in the Sunday News-Register. It sets up the scene that changed Don's life, as he described it to me:

"In between the legs of the street beggars, a woman, the color of the dirt she lay upon, appeared. As the couple watched, frozen, she dug her fingernails into the road as she dragged her useless legs behind her. She was bleeding, her clothes were torn and she had one goal — to cross the busy road without getting stepped on. ...

"She disappeared into the melee of the marketplace. But she never disappeared from Schoendorfer's memory."

Don said God kept bringing this image to mind until he knew he had to do something to help people like her. So he designed these wheelchairs, which cost $59.20 each to build, ship and distribute. His goal is to give out 20 million of them, a goal he set based on estimates of the number of people who need them. So far, 508,000 wheelchairs have been delivered.

The Boston mothers, young Natalie Committee, and Don Schoendorfer are today's true heroes. They inspire me to find a way every day to make a positive difference in someone's life — to, as the Chris Figaretti Family in Wheeling would encourage — "be the blessing." (By the way, Chris is one of those heroes, too. It is through his Be the Blessing campaign that the Free Wheelchair Mission has been so successful here in the Ohio Valley.)

For anyone interested in attending the "Beyond Belief" screening, it will be at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9, at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square, on the North Side of Pittsburgh (next to the Children's Museum). Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door. For tickets, visit ShowClix at or call 1-888-71TICKETS or buy them at the door. Proceeds benefit Beyond the 11th.


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Blog Photos

Susan Retik, far left, is shown on one of her trips to Afghanistan.


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