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Sally Goodrich, who built a school for girls in Afghanistan, taught of courage and reconciliation.
BOSTON — Sally Goodrich was a teacher.
She looked like one. She had that healthy Vermont glow and a patient, determined, but joyful bearing that great school teachers have.
She was also quite simply one of the most inspiring and idealistic people I have met in my 25 years as a reporter. She changed the way I looked at things, and so I guess I was her student.
Sally died on Saturday in her Bennington, Vermont home surrounded by her family after a long battle with cancer. She was 65.
Readers of GlobalPost might remember that Sally was featured in our “Life, Death and the Taliban” project from 2009. She had built a school for girls in Afghanistan in honor of her son Peter who was killed on Sept. 11, 2001. He was among the passengers on board the United Airlines flight that crashed into the South Tower.
At first, she was simply overcome with rage and sadness and she mourned the loss of her son for months and months. Then a friend of Peter’s who was a Marine sent her an email in 2004 from Afghanistan encouraging her to think about helping schoolgirls in Afghanistan.
Then Sally saw the light, and a way to teach. It was what she called, “the moment of grace.” An elementary school reading teacher in North Adams, Massachusetts, Sally raised the money to send school supplies.
Then she and her husband Donald, a lawyer, started the Peter M. Goodrich Foundation and raised a further $300,000 to build a school for girls in Afghanistan. I was lucky enough to travel with her in 2007 for The Boston Globe to chronicle her journey to see the school in progress for the first time.
On that trip, I saw how she came alive in Afghanistan and how the young Afghan girls and the Afghan woman who was the principal smiled and looked up to her. She had come with lessons of reconciliation and hope and a deep personal journey toward healing from the terrible destruction and crime that was Sept. 11.
She had come to know the country well and she had touched many lives there. In 2009, she knew I was going to back to Afghanistan and she confided in me that she had received information that the Taliban had moved into the village where the girls’ school was built in the Logar Province.
Local Taliban leaders had been meeting in the school and several village elders, who she had befriended, were arrested by the U.S. military. She hopped on a plane, donned her burqa and went to see for herself what was the story and she came away believing the military evidence and she was heartsick.
On my journey to Afghanistan in the summer of 2009, I promised Sally that I would look into the case and I met with one of the village elders who explained why they had allowed the Taliban into the school and into the village.
He did it, he said, not because he supported the Taliban but because he wanted his daughters to go to school. If they didn’t permit the Taliban to operate in their village, they would have blown it up or burned it down. And sure enough after the U.S. military stepped in, there was a truck bomb that exploded just at the entrance to the school. It killed 13 elementary school children. But the school still stayed open. And from what we hear from Afghanistan, it remains open.
And so Sally’s lessons that she shared are still being taught in that school house. And the lessons she shared with everyone who was lucky enough to have intersected with her life are still being taught as well.