Tragedy in Afghanistan

Press Release by International Assistance Mission (IAM), 09/08/2010, Kabul, Afghanistan:

Today we bring you sad news. It is now confirmed that the bodies of the ten people found in Badakhshan on Friday were those of our missing Nuristan Eye Camp team. This is a sad day, particularly for the relatives and friends of those killed. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all. We pray they will find strength in their faith and in their communities to bear this unbelievable loss.

Our ten colleagues who were killed on Thursday, 5 August, had just trekked one hundred miles back through the Hindu Kush mountains, after giving eye care to some of the poorest and most remote communities in Afghanistan.

The team had driven to Nuristan, left their vehicles and hiked for nearly a day and a half with pack horses over a 16,000 foot high mountain range to reach the Parun valley. A group of local guides had accompanied the team on their trek, and guided them safely back to their vehicles. Shortly afterwards they drove acrossa river dangerously swollen by heavy rains, then got out of their vehicles obviously relieved that the difficult part of their trip was over. It was then that a group of armed men attacked the team, killing all but one of its members on the spot.

We want to pay tribute to each of our colleagues who died, and to their commitment to serve the Afghan people. They were:

Dr Tom Little, 61, USA; Mahram Ali, 50, Afghanistan; Cheryl Beckett, 32, USA; Daniela Beyer, 35, Germany; Brian Carderelli, 25, USA; Jawed, 24, Afghanistan; Dr Tom Grams, USA; Glen Lapp, 40, USA; Dan Terry, 63, USA; Dr Karen Woo, 36, UK.

In some news articles, the people on this team have been described as ‘saints.’ This is not how they saw themselves. They were basically selfless professionals willing to spend their lives and energy in a meaningful way.

Tom Little, the team leader of the eye camp, was the driving force behind much of what has been achieved in eye care in Afghanistan. He is irreplaceable.

IAM has worked in Afghanistan since 1966, as the guest of the people and the government, and our eye care work alone has benefited an estimated 5 million Afghans. As long as we are welcome, we will continue to stay and serve the Afghan people.

Tom Little

Known in Kabul as “Mr Tom,” he knew his work was dangerous, and that following God’s call could mean losing his life – but it didn’t deter him from making Afghanistan his home for 33 years.

Tom learned the language and culture, and used his professional skills to literally help the blind to see, in a place with very little eye care until Tom went to live there. And it was all from the bottom up – he not only did the eye charts and vision tests, but also ground the lenses for the glasses. Later on he set up hospitals and clinics, and trained Afghan staff in eye care, so they couldsustain the work he and others began.

One of Tom’s trainees is Dr Abdullah Abdullah, a senior Afghan politician and former presidential candidate. After the murders he publicly paid tribute to Tom’s dedication to his people, and labelled the attackers “enemies of the Afghan people”.

“We always knew we shared him with the Afghan people,” his wife, Libby, said. “We honor God’s unique call on his life skills and energy. We believe with Tom that there are some things in life worth dying for.”

Tom was buried 21 August in the British Cemetery in Kabul. He is survived by his wife and three daughters.