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Life, death and the Taliban: War of ideas

A woman, a school and a tragically complex relationship.

Peter Goodrich, 32, was among those killed on the second plane that was hijacked and crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

His parents, Don and Sally Goodrich of Vermont, fell into the abyss of despair that lies before any parent who loses a child, as well as the unique trauma experienced by Sept. 11 families.

The light that helped lead them out of the darkness was an idea from a close friend of Peter who served as a Marine in Afghanistan. He thought Sally, a schoolteacher, might want to help Afghan school kids as a way to honor Peter.

Sally headed straight for the light. Eventually, she established the Peter M. Goodrich Memorial Foundation, which raised the $200,000 in funds needed to build the impressive, two-story, 26-room, K-8 girls’ school in the Mohammed Agha district of Logar. The foundation has taken on other projects as well, from water distribution systems to relief for victims of the Nangarhar earthquake.

Two years ago, I traveled with Sally to Afghanistan to be with her when she saw the school in the Logar Province in session for the first time. The classrooms were overflowing and the hallways were buzzing with the chatter and giggling excitement of elementary school girls.

Sally is a schoolteacher from Vermont and even though the girls’ faces were wrapped in the white headscarves of Islamic modesty, they looked up at her with the confidence and the glee that comes with learning.

The story I wrote for Mother’s Day 2007 was featured on the cover of The Boston Globe Magazine as a feel good story about reconciliation after Sept. 11. It was titled “The Education of Sally.”

Then, in March of this year, Sally and Don received news that the village, about 20 miles outside of Kabul, was overrun by the Taliban.

On March 9, U.S.-led coalition forces raided the village in the middle of the night and burst into the homes of the two village elders: Haji Malik and Khadel Khan. They were handcuffed and bundled off for questioning as Taliban sympathizers. Sally and Don had bonded with these men — tall, bearded Pashtun brothers who wore all the traditional regalia of silk headscarves and salwar kameez. Sally likes to say they and the community they represent gave her back her life.