KABUL, Afghanistan – Sally Goodrich, whose son died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, kept a grip on her grief as she surveyed the foundations of the Afghan school being built with money she raised in the United States (search).
But the 59-year-old, who lost her son in the second plane to hit the World Trade Center, has been overwhelmed more than once as she surveyed the striking landscape of mountains and plains where Al Qaeda honed its plot.
"How could it possibly have come from a place of such reverence and tranquility?" she asked The Associated Press in the Afghan capital this week, the thought bringing fresh tears and a determined smile.
Goodrich, a native of Bennington, Vt., (search) and an administrator for schools in nearby North Adams, Mass., has helped raise about $180,000 for the new girl's school in Surkh Abat, about 30 miles south of Kabul, in Logar province.
On Wednesday, she visited the site in a fertile valley edged by jagged mountains. Teachers and pupils gave her jewelry and a penholder made of colored beads. Later, they sang songs of welcome.
"All I had to do was maintain my composure, which was the most I could do," Goodrich said in an interview in a government guesthouse in Kabul (search), wearing a black headscarf even indoors out of respect for the country's deep-rooted Islamic customs.
By Saturday, turbaned masons were raising the earthquake-proof stone walls of what is to become a 16-classroom school for girls aged 6 to 13, about 200 of whom were in classes nearby, crammed into a long room and an open-ended tent at the mayor's house.
The new school is not intended as a monument to Peter Goodrich, who was 33 when he died more than 3 1/2 years ago, and the idea of building it grew from a more modest aid effort. But Sally Goodrich said her voyage to Afghanistan was one that her lost child, who had spent time reading the Quran in his own time and was fascinated by other cultures, would have approved of, and it had brought them closer together.
"Peter would be all about trying to understand why the event happened," Goodrich said, adding that she had read about Afghanistan intensively before her trip and has been promoting learning about Afghanistan in schools back home.
"Had he the opportunity that day to listen to the hijackers, to sit down and talk to them, that would have been his inclination."
U.S. Marine Maj. Rush Filson, a childhood friend of Peter Goodrich, sowed the seed of the project last summer when he wrote to Sally Goodrich and her husband, Don, about the state of schools near where he was stationed in Afghanistan.
The Goodriches helped raise funds for supplies for another school in Logar that also was being run out of a private home. The U.S. military delivered them for free. But the organizers soon decided that Afghan children needed more than just pens and books.
Local churches, schools and family friends helped raise the funds for the school, paying some into a memorial foundation. Some of the money also came from compensation paid to families of the victims of the 2001 attacks.
The site for the new school was identified with the help of an Afghan deputy interior minister who once worked as an assistant to David Edwards, a professor at Williams College, in Williamstown, Mass., who also is involved in the project.
Haji Malik, the 60-year-old foreman of the construction site, said the people from seven nearby villages were delighted about the new school and the generosity of the "kind foreign lady."
"I condemn what happened on Sept. 11," Malik said as about 20 men heaved chunks of stone onto the foundations and smothered them in cement. "We are all part of humanity, we are all brothers, even if we have different religions."
One laborer, Ghulam Dastagir, said his three small daughters jumped up and down for joy when they heard about the school, which will serve elementary and middle grades.
Bibi Hawa, a 10-year-old girl minding four cows nearby, said she also would like to come to the school, "but my father won't let me," suggesting conservative Muslim traditions would deprive some local children of a chance for education.
Sally Goodrich said her visit was heartwarming and that the 10 female teachers had made clear their sympathy for her loss.
"You see it in they eyes, that they understand suffering," she said.
That support will be valuable again when Goodrich returns with her husband to see the first classes in the completed building, a trip slated for the fourth anniversary of the event that brought her halfway around the world.
"No matter what, we will spend Sept. 11 in Logar," she said.