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Foundation turns 9/11 tragedy into hope

25-year-old Peter C. Alderman was one of the 2,700 people killed on September 11, 2001 in the World Trade Center. His parents founded a trauma foundation in his name and are bringing back hope to others in his name.

Peter C. Alderman

Peter C. Alderman was only in the World Trade Center that morning by chance

In the large house located not far from New York City, family pictures hang on all the walls. The Aldermans had three children; Peter was their youngest. On September 11, 2001, the 25-year-old was only in the World Trade Center by chance. He had just returned from a holiday in France a few days earlier and was taking part in a conference in the twin towers. His parents Elizabeth and Stephen were still in Europe.

Peter's older sister was in contact with him until the very end, his mother says. Peter sent his sister an email that he was on the 106th floor in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

"They emailed back and forth until 9:25 that morning," she says. "In his last email to her, she had asked, 'can you get out?' And he wrote: 'we're stuck, the room is filling with smoke. I'm scared'." An hour later, at 10:28, the North Tower collapsed, burying Peter and more than 2,700 beneath it.

Elizabeth Alderman wanted to erect a memorial for her son and got involved in the official committee.

The twin towers of the World Trade Center burn behind the Empire State Buildiing in New York on September 11, 2001

The Altmans didn't want Peter's death in the twin towers to have been in vain

"I wanted his name written in stone, so I got very involved with the September 11 groups and the committees that were making the decisions at that time," she says. "After about six months, I stopped doing that. It was the most frustrating experience. It wasn't about what the families wanted. It was about power and greed and politics."

Her husband Stephen continues the story.

"Lizzy wasn't sleeping much at that time and both of us, but she in particular, were watching everything we could find out on the news," he recalls.

One of these sleepless nights, Elizabeth Alderman saw a report about three Afghan girls, who had become orphans as a result of the US bombing in their country. Her spontaneous reaction was to help them.

"I just wanted to put my arm around these three girls and bring them home, for Stephen and I to take care of them and give them a better life," she says. "And, as I'm watching, I'm realizing that there's a lot more that we could accomplish."

Helping yourself and others

It became clear to the Aldermans that millions of people all around the world have had to flee from war and violence. More than half of them were therefore severely traumatized. They decided to help these people overcome their trauma. They are certain that only then can people master the rest of their lives. With the help of the trauma specialist Dr. Richard Mollica from Harvard University, they worked out a plan.

Elizabeth and Stephen alderman

Elizabeth and Stephen Alderman want to keep their son's legacy alive

"What he proposed was to train the general practitioners, the few psychiatrists that existed and psychologists from post-conflict and conflict countries to teach them how to care for their traumatized populations," Stephen Alderman says.

Following the first seminar, the idea developed to found respective centers directly in these doctors' countries. So a room on the first floor of the Alderman's house became the headquarters of the trauma foundation named after their murdered son, the Peter C. Alderman Foundation (PCAF).

The Aldermans printed brochures, sent emails and made countless phone calls. They negotiated directly with the governments of those countries in which they wanted to help.

Trauma centers in Africa and Asia

The first clinic was set up in Cambodia, and then one followed in Uganda. In the meantime, there are six centers altogether. In October, the seventh facility will open in Liberia. More than 1,000 local physicians and healthcare professionals have been trained. The foundation has supported programs in Ruanda and Haiti, as well.

In addition, there's an annual training conference. This year it was held in Nairobi, Kenya in July. This is all still organized from their home. The Aldermans work on a volunteer basis and donate $150,000 (106,800 euros) a year to the foundation. The high compensation payment for Peter's death - which Elizabeth Alderman initially didn't want to accept - and other donations help finance the foundation. The Alderman's daughter also works for PCAF. Two years ago, they hired an executive director.

Die Kitgum Peter C Alderman Foundation clinic in Uganda

The Kitgum Peter C. Alderman Foundation clinic in Uganda was opened in July 2009

The Aldermans would like to slowly retire from their work. But following their death, the foundation and thus Peter's legacy should continue to exist. They say they gain a deep fulfillment from their work, even - or perhaps because - it is so exhausting. Elizabeth says she can sleep better now.

"None of this work - none of it - has changed the sadness, has helped any of the pain to go away," she says. "But coming from a place where I thought I was never going to feel good about anything again, I feel really good about the work that we're doing and I feel privileged to have met the people that we have along the way. So many incredible people have come into our lives."

Elizabeth and Stephen Alderman found their answer to the death of their son. By doing good and helping others learn to overcome the consequences of terror, so that their son, who had so many friends and truly appreciated the beauty of life, can leave a mark in this world.

"My realization was that there was nothing that we could do for Peter," Elizabeth says. "Peter was dead, Peter was gone. But if we could bring life back to other people in Peter's name, because Peter loved life so much, that was the perfect memorial."

Author: Christina Bergmann, Bedford, New York / sac
Editor: Rob Mudge

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