Patti Quigley’s peaceful life in Wellesley was shattered when her husband, Patrick, was killed on September 11th 2001. Patrick’s plane, United Airlines Flight 175, was hijacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists and crashed into the World Trade Center. At the time, Quigley was eight months pregnant with her daughter, Leah and her five-year-old, Rachel, was in kindergarten.
Quigley’s husband was one of several Wellesley residents who lost their lives on September 11.
“The terrorism of 9/11 affected Wellesley,” says Quigley. “So 6,000 miles away something else was going on [and it] completely impacted Wellesley as a town.”
In a speech to the nation on October 7, 2001, President George W. Bush announced the response to the September 11 attacks: the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban regime and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
America’s longest war was supposed to end with the final drawdown of U.S. troops beginning this year, but it has become clear in recent weeks that the 9,800 American soldiers still in Afghanistan will likely remain there for some time to come. The ramifications of the war in Afghanistan have been felt in many American lives and communities, including Wellesley.
As Quigley dealt with the profound grief of losing her husband, she began to identify with the plight of women in Afghanistan. She realized that their lives had also been ruined by the same terrorists that had killed her husband.
Quigley’s growing interest in Afghanistan eventually led her to Razia Jan, a native Afghan who had lived in Massachusetts for decades.
“Razia was also working on Afghan issues in her community,” Quigley says. “We kept running into each other and around each other and we became friends and she told me about her school that she wanted to build.”
Quigley offered her support for the project and Jan soon returned to Afghanistan, where in 2008, she opened a free school for girls in a conservative rural village outside Kabul, in the district of Deh’ Subz.
Hundreds of girls from pre-kindergarten to high school attend Jan’s Zabuli Education Center — something that would have been unthinkable under the Taliban, which forbids girls from attending school.
Jan initially faced stiff resistance to her plans for the school, from male leaders in the community who tried to convince her to change the school into a school only for boys. Men are “the backbone of Afghanistan,” they told her. She responded by telling them that, “the women of Afghanistan are the eyesight of Afghanistan, and you all are blind,” she recalls.
Over time, Jan won over many of the men living in Deh’ Subz who now send their daughters to her school.
In Wellesley, Quigley serves as executive director of Razia’s Ray of Hope Foundation which supports the Zabuli school and she says she has received a lot of local help.
“Education is an enormous part of who Wellesley is,” Quigley explains. “People realize the impact of what education means around the world.”
During a recent visit to Quigley’s home, Jan shared photographs of her students. The pictures showed beautiful girls donned in forest green head scarves.
“[There’s] something very special [about] green,” Jan says. “The trees grow and the flowers grow and these girls will grow to become leaders.”
But Jan worries every day about her budding leaders because the Taliban hasn’t gone away.
"The day our school opened, there was another girls’ school, and the girls were running around in the courtyard laughing,” she says. “Some people were passing by, most probably Taliban, and they threw hand grenades and they killed these girls.”
Fears about the girls’ safety at Jan’s school have only grown as the U.S. military draws down in Afghanistan.
"I think that we need to be partnering in some way with [Afghanistan]," Quigley says. “We went in and we destroyed a lot of the country. The country has been in war for almost 50 years now. So how can you expect someone who has only known war to be peaceful? I think education does that."
Quigley and Jan believe their school can only succeed with the broader security provided by American troops, and that is why they both say that they are convinced the US military presence in Afghanistan must continue.
Our report was produced in partnership with The GroundTruth Project and the year-long series, "Foreverstan: Afghanistan and the road to ending America's longest war."