Op-ed column: Good deeds are effective weapons in preventing terrorism

I was in sixth grade when two planes flew into the Twin Towers. I remember sitting in my history cla
John Daly/For The Sunday Gazette
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John Daly/For The Sunday Gazette

I was in sixth grade when two planes flew into the Twin Towers. I remember sitting in my history class, watching the news, and trying to make sense of all of it. Why would someone want to kill thousands of innocent people? How was there that much hatred in the world?

I remember calling my cousin that night and saying, “We have to do something about this. We have to help these victims.” My cousins and I organized a bottle and can drive. We returned the cans, getting millions of nickels, and donated the proceeds to the American Red Cross. I just remember thinking: “Something good must come out of this.”

A few months ago, while serving on the Schenectady County One County, One Book program, I discovered I was hardly the only person who felt this way. We were researching organizations that aid Afghanistan, to connect with Khaled Hosseini’s book “The Kite Runner,” when we stumbled across the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation. Sally and Don Goodrich, of Bennington, Vt., lost their son Peter in the terrorist attacks. The couple founded the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation, in their son’s memory.

Step in right direction

The foundation began with a simple request from Peter Goodrich’s lifelong friend, Marine Maj. Rush Filson, to Peter’s parents. Filson, who was serving in Afghanistan, described meeting a teacher in need of school supplies. As Sally described it in an e-mail interview, “I like to say that Rush’s e-mail was the ‘moment of grace’ or a door opening . . .

“At the time we received the e-mail, Don was involved in supporting the creation of the 9/11 Commission,” Sally wrote. “Peter would have expected us to work to uncover and try to remedy the causes of 9/11.”

The Goodriches decided to focus on collecting school supplies, in keeping with one of the 9/11 Commission goals that U.S. citizens should reach out to young people in Afghanistan as a way of helping and creating good will.

From there, the project snowballed. The couple has now built a school for girls in Afghanistan and helps to support the needs of 50 Afghan orphans.

I’ve told their story about 12 times in the past two weeks, yet each time I’m still amazed by what they’ve done. They prove one of my all-time favorite quotes, from Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Deserving more attention

It’s obvious that Sally, Don, and everyone at the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation have had a significant impact in educating and supporting students, but I think it should be equally clear they’re preventing terrorism.

With the current election cycle under way, it seems everywhere I turn someone is advocating a new strategy to win the “War on Terror.” I don’t pretend to be an expert on either terrorism or war, but why the ideas of the foundation haven’t gotten more attention is beyond me.

Over Christmas vacation, I read Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea” and saw the film “Charlie Wilson’s War.” The fundamental idea of both these works, and the foundation’s underlying message, is that secular education in the Middle East will prevent terrorism. It makes perfect sense to me. We can help a generation of kids in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria to be less susceptible to the ideas and values of Islamic extremists if we give them a chance at a secular school.

We have a chance to do something wonderful, not only for ourselves by preventing future terrorist attacks, but for kids half a world away who need our help.

It’s easy to get involved and make a difference right now. Throughout the spring, the One County, One Book program, organized by the Schenectady County Public Library, is working with the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation to support the Wardak community in Afghanistan. We’re encouraging schools, organizations, book clubs and businesses to get involved with the various opportunities to support Afghanistan.

Worthy endeavor

The first possibility is to buy a cow, for $600, or a sheep, for $125. The animals help the villages to develop skills in raising livestock and business management, and help to fund the school. The animals can be used for dairy products, wool and meat. The ultimate goal of the cows and sheep are to make the Wardak community self-sustainable. A sustainable village is less susceptible to terrorist recruiters and more likely to remain peaceful in general.

Donations can be made toward the purchase of a cow or sheep through the Goodrich Foundation Web site, www.goodrichfoundation.org.

Or, you can send boxes of clothing, hygiene kits and school supply kits to: WIDS c/o Kathleen Rafiq, APO AE, 09356. Rafiq, a friend and colleague of Sally Goodrich, works among the very poor and needy of Afghanistan’s rural districts.

The clothing must be traditional, devoid of logos and slogans, and only “gently” used. There is a real need for baby clothes and winter items. Knit hats, scarves and mittens would be particularly useful.

Individual hygiene kits should include travel-sized soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, tooth paste and tooth brushes placed in a sealable plastic bag. Finally, the school supply kits should contain composition or spiral bound notebooks (simple colors, no inappropriate designs) pencils, pencil-top erasers, and hand-held pencil sharpeners in a sealable plastic bag.

Chance to be good again

While these items are taken for granted in America, in Afghanistan, they make a world of difference. My favorite quote from “The Kite Runner” is “There is a chance to be good again.” With this project we have a chance to make things good again for us and for the people of Afghanistan. We can support a community, help to educate Afghans, offer them hope and help to deter future terrorist attacks.

Further information on One County, One Book programs, including the service projects, is available through the Schenectady County Public Library’s Web site www.scpl.org.

Elizabeth Held is a senior at Niskayuna High School and has served on the Schenectady County Public Library One County, One Book committee for two years. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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