Local Couple Helps African Village
By Sasha Goldstein
North Stonington - All of us remember where we were when we heard the news of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
At the time, Dan Holdridge worked at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
Holdridge recounted his experience that day during a fundraising event on April 10 at the Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington.
He'd just gotten a call about the attacks on the World Trade Center, and was headed to watch the news coverage.
"I realized I was in the defense capital of the world, which was probably not the best place to be," Holdridge said. "But then I thought, don't worry, I'm in the Pentagon, it's a fortress."
The next thing Holdridge knew, a major blast threw him off his feet and slammed him into a wall more than 20 feet away. A clipboard held in front of his face may have saved his life. Holdridge, a Westerly native, had survived the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon. Ten feet away from him, 184 people were not as lucky.
Sabrina Buehler of North Stonington, top right, with women and children at a library in Zambia her charity helped build. Photo submitted Below, Dan Holdridge, author of "Surviving September 11th" spoke on surviving the 9/11 attacks while at the Pentagon during a gathering at Jonathan Edwards Winery in North Stonington.
Photo by Peter M. Weber
"I tell this story not for the shock and awe, but as appreciation for my second chance in life," he said. "It's something that forces us to hit the emergency stop button; why am I here?"
Holdridge spoke to a crowd of more than 40 people that night about his story, which organizer Sabrina Buehler said is similar to that of the people the Chikumbuso Widows and Orphans project, based in Zambia, helps.
"His message is the message of Chikumbuso," Buehler said.
Chikumbuso means "remembrance," Buehler said, and is a project that began more than five years ago in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.
There, in the Ng'ombe slum of more than 120,000 people, Linda Wilkinson, the wife of Bruce, a Wheeler High School graduate, started a free school for orphans.
Now, the project has expanded even more. Buehler and her husband, Paul, just returned from three weeks in Lusaka where they volunteered and helped with the opening of the first library in the slum.
Some of the pictures Sabrina returned with included images of widows holding copies of Holdridge's book "Surviving September 11th," the story of his 9/11 experience that was published in 2010.
"That community is amazing, what they do with so little," Holdridge said. "Their material things in life are nothing compared to what we have. Being under the rubble taught me to never feel entitled to anything after something like that."
|Handmade purses and handbags for sale at the benefit for the Chikumbuso Library in Zambia. Created by the people of Zambia, 100 percent of sales go back to Zambia. Photo by Peter M. Weber
The widows are helping the cause as well, crocheting bags, bracelets and wine holders out of recycled plastic bags, creating beautiful, practical works of art. The sale of the items go directly back to the project, Buehler said, and attendees at the April 10 fundraiser walked away with plenty of different bags.
"I'm known as the bag lady in town," Buehler said, laughing.
Her desire to help the project in Africa has inspired others, like Holdridge, to donate their time and energy to Chikumbuso. Wheeler High School formed a club to help the project and she said Jonathan Edwards Winery and the Rotary Club of the Stoningtons, among others, has been very supportive as well.
At the April 10 event, Buehler said at least nine attendees had visited the Chikumbuso project in Zambia.
"It's very contagious once they visit," she said. "The little bit you give makes a huge difference over there."