The Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation, established after Peter’s death on board the second plane to hit the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001, until recently worked primarily in the Pashtun provinces of Afghanistan supporting education and addressing the fundamental needs of fragile populations. In the United States the Foundation continues to work with private and public secondary schools and colleges to identify educational opportunities for student exchange.

As Chair of the Board of Families of September 11th, Peter’s father, Don, will continue to work to prevent terrorism while preserving civil liberties in the United States. Don is a trial attorney.

Peter’s mother, Sally, directs the work of the Foundation. Sally is a public school administrator.

We are joined by many who believe we can take affirmative steps to fashion a safer, more equitable world. We all share a sense of urgency and purpose.
– from the homepage of the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation at http://www.goodrichfoundation.org/

Sally Goodrich spent most of Thursday, January 21 at Stoneleigh-Burnham School, visiting four classes along with two Afghan students, Maryam and Mati, and speaking at an all-school housemeeting. Sally would join her husband Don that evening in delivering the second-ever public lecture sponsored by the Miriam Emerson Peters Speaker Series in Global Awareness. As it happened, Sally, Maryam and Mati began their day in the middle school with the two Humanities classes.

Sally briefly introduced herself to the Humanities 8 class and, sitting on the floor with the class, quietly told the story of how Peter died, how devastated she was by her son’s death, how she had come to help build a school for girls in Afghanistan, and how in the process she had met Mati’s father and at his suggestion decided to extend her work by helping Afghan students come to the United States to study. Mati, studying at Williams College, and Maryam, at Miss Hall’s School, are two of the eight students the Goodriches are currently sponsoring. Mati and Maryam also introduced themselves and told a little bit about their lives, with special warmth in their voices when they referred to Sally and Don and all they had done for them. The Afghan culture places a very high value on taking good care of guests, and Sally showed equal warmth when talking about her experiences in that country.

The Humanities 8 class has been studying slavery and as Sally used to be an elementary school teacher, she wanted to hook into our curriculum and had worked hard with Maryam and Mati to think up connections between Afghanistan and slavery. One possible connection they suggested involved the very strong sense of honor that permeates Afghan culture. When Sally first visited Afghanistan, many people were astounded that she and her husband were responding to their son’s death by visiting the country which had sheltered the man responsible rather than by swearing vengeance and attempting to kill in return to preserve family honor. With these values, if a member of your family should kill a member of another family, you would expect an equally strong reaction. To forestall an ongoing blood feud, your family might offer a daughter to the other family. The 8th graders asked what her life would be like, and Sally responded that, although she would not actually be a slave per se, in fact her life would not be so different from that of a slave in the 19th century United States. Somehow this led, with a few twists and turns, to a discussion about dowries and to one of the most lively topics this class discussed, marriage.

Both Mati and Maryam are expecting to have arranged marriages, as is common for most young people in Afghanistan. Seeing the looks on some of the 8th graders’ faces, Sally smiled and pointed out that they were both looking forward to it. As Mati and Maryam smiled and nodded, Sally explained that marriage in Afghanistan is viewed very differently than in the United States, that in Afghanistan it is more an extension of the family. It is a daughter-in-law’s job to take care of her mother-in-law. Mati noted that, since males and females are separated most of the time as teenagers, dating as we know it in the United States can’t really exist, adding that he trusted his parents to make a good choice. “I think that arranged marriages work out better than love marriages,” he added, commenting that the divorce rate in this country is high while divorce is practically unheard of in his country. Maryam added that she knew a girl who fought for a love marriage, at the expense of her relationships with her family. In a country where families are close, where many members of an extended family share living quarters, where elders are treated with the utmost respect and where children do not speak, even to older siblings, unless first spoken to, this loss is perhaps even more devastating than it would be here.

50 minutes flew by, and it was time for the Humanities 7 class to spend time with Sally, Maryam and Mati. I warned them that this class was prone to “an explosion of questions” and the explosion was not long in coming. A number of questions dealt with how girls and women dress in Afghanistan, a Muslim country, and Maryam’s and Mati’s reactions when they first came to this country. Both of them were shocked at first but both of them were able to come to a place where they recognized and accepted that they could live by their beliefs while respecting the differing beliefs of their host country. Maryam said that she continued to wear a head scarf in the United States because she was more comfortable with it, noting that some women in Afghanistan were more comfortable in burqas and might choose to wear those. Outside of areas controlled by the Taliban, she said, it is a woman’s choice. Struggling to understand this cultural perspective so foreign to them , the students asked if a burqa wasn’t too hot in the summer. Sally responded that they could be extremely lightweight and were made of a wonderfully smooth and comfortable cotton fabric.

Then one 7th grader asked Maryam and Mati how living in the United States had changed them. Both of them started somewhat, and Sally smiled, “That’s a great question.” “It is,”added Mati, searching for an answer and finally asking Sally if she would answer for him, suggesting that perhaps she had a better sense than he did. Both he and Maryam ended up affirming that they remain closely connected with Afghanistan and want to return there. Maryam in particular felt that she could be true to her home culture and live happily in this culture despite their vast differences. However, she went on to say that she had learned in the United States that girls could indeed use their voice and speak up for themselves, and that when she returns home she is much more vocal than she was before coming here. Later on, following the evening lecture, Mati would say that a forthcoming honesty was one of the things he most appreciated about the United States, while Maryam would reaffirm the importance to her of people in the U.S. encouraging girls and women to speak out.

From their own perspectives, Don and Sally said they appreciated the gracious welcome, the humour and the talents of the Afghan people. Asked what myths they would want to dispel, Don emphasized that just because many Afghans are illiterate and/or live in poverty does not mean they are stupid; quite the contrary, they often show extreme intelligence, insight and creativity. Additionally, Sally commented that many leaders in Afghanistan are in no way corrupt, citing Mati’s own father as a strong example.

One audience member asked Don and Sally what we in the room could do to be supportive. Acknowledging that some people do in fact volunteer to donate to the foundation, Sally also offered to help the woman find “an Afghan student of your very own” to sponsor. Our school began this week by honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who once spoke movingly of “the fierce urgency of now,” adding “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” That audience member, like so many of us, seemed to be feeling that urgency as Don and Sally Goodrich are truly living those words, inspiring others to do the same.

As I prepared to say “thank you” and “goodbye” one last time, I saw Mati approaching me, a huge grin on his face. He swung his arm backward and then forward, gripping my hand with an intense strength that communicated delight, warmth, and gratitude. “Thank you for a wonderful day,” I told him, and he responded, “You have an amazing school.” As I walked out to my car, I allowed myself to think that maybe we had given back to them at least some of what they had brought to our lives, that we had been good hosts in more ways than one. I sincerely hope so.

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