U.S. Eye Doctor Devoted Life To Afghans

Tom Little had been helping get medical care to Afghans for more than three decades, and had survived harrowing times before. But officials say he's among 10 members of a medical team who've been murdered.

Compelling stories are emerging about the lives of those who were among the 10 members of a medical aid team murdered in northern Afghanistan last week.

American Tom Little, for example, had spent nearly all of the last 31 years in the country -- through the Russian invasion, civil wars, Taliban take-over and the post-9/11 toppling of that regime by U.S. and coalition forces. An eye doctor, Little and his wife Libby raised three daughters while living and working in Afghanistan. They brought eye care and glasses to people in some of the poorest and most remote areas on the planet.

They have ties to the Capital Area region of New York State, and in a 2004 story published by the alternative news weekly Metroland, the Littles talked about some of the hard times they'd seen and lived through:

"There are far-off glances and long silences between the gruesome details the couple remembers from the 1979 Russian massacre and subsequent Afghan uprising that claimed hundreds of lives and ultimately led to the Russian invasion. The uprising took place mere months after they’d arrived in the country. It was so brutal that the U.S. Embassy told their relatives back home that the family was assumed dead. The Littles recall exchanging morning forecasts predicting the number of shells that would drop during the years of civil war that destroyed Kabul, the nation’s capital. 'Well, it feels like a 10-shell day today,' Little says, remembering how he and his wife used to joke. As if their lives weren’t in danger at the time, the Littles offer hilarious renditions of being kidnapped by the Taliban on multiple family picnics; the Littles’ eldest daughter has since sworn off these family outings."

At the other end of the spectrum, in terms of experience in Afghanistan, was British Dr. Karen Woo -- another of those reported to have been killed. Her blog -- Dr. Karen Explores Healthcare In Afghanistan -- is full of wonder and joy about the new experiences she was having and the people she was meeting. Woo also realized that the three-week aid mission she was going on with the others, north of Kabul to some of the highest mountains on Earth, wasn't going to be easy:

"Repeated rocket fire on the airport... and us waiting to fly out of there. I'd had several email updates on the progress of the vehicles and thus far all was going well, they'd not had any problems and we were still on target for our rendezvous up North. We found out a couple of days ago that there is still a lot of snow on the pass and the horses won't be able to go all the way over. We had planned for the horses to carry the bulk of our kit (and there's a lot of it) so now, when their little hooves can go no further, we'll be lugging it over the pass ourselves. The image of a straggly band of people labouring through the snow at 16,000 feet comes to mind but seems so very remote and painless as I sit at my desk in Kabul - I know it's going to hurt but I just can't imagine it right now."

As Frank wrote yesterday, the Taliban has claimed credit for the murders.

The members of the International Assistance Mission team who were on the trip included six Americans, one German, one Briton and four Afghans. One of the Afghan members had headed back for Kabul on a different route than the rest of the team was taking when the attack occurred. Another Afghan team member survived the massacre.

There's more about the work that Little, Woo and others were doing here and here.

NPR's Quil Lawrence reported about the killings for Weekend Edition. He had recently met Dr. Woo:

(H/Ts to the BBC and Albany Times-Union.)

Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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