LIBBY LITTLE, WIFE OF TOM LITTLE
Libby Little, as the person closest to her husband, is the central interview subject in the film. The film-making team has conducted five formal interviews with Libby. The first was conducted in December 2011, the second was in October 2012, three subsequent interviews occurred in Afghanistan in March of 2013. Libby rarely left Tom’s side during his 33 years of service in Afghanistan and shares the most personal details of their life together. We also conducted many informal interviews with Libby while on location in Kabul and observed her interaction with Afghan and expatriate colleagues. Recollections run the gamut, from their odd first date listening to Radio Argentina on Tom’s short wave radio, to the night she learned of his death in 2010.
CHIP PARKER, CO-WORKER, OPTOMETRIST
Chip Parker was working for IAM in the late 70s when Dr. Little arrived in Kabul. Hearing of Tom’s experiences in his father’s ophthalmic office, he asked if Tom would help him assemble some eye equipment that had arrived in Kabul. He obliged and thus began Tom’s introduction to the medical mission in Afghanistan. Chip Parker would later leave Afghanistan and work in Sri Lanka but kept in close contact with Dr. Little. In 1994, when the Little family was exhausted from serving in the war zone, Dr. Parker relieved Tom so that the family could take a year off in New York. Dr. Parker shared philosophical positions with Dr. Little in regard to administering aid in developing countries. The model involves an emphasis on training local people to become doctors so in the event of a decline in Western aid, native people can maintain their own services. Chip Parker also shares his own personal experiences with restoring the sight of Afghans through eyeglasses and medications and the powerful emotional impact it had on them.
JOHN LITTLE, BROTHER
Tom’s brother John is the Little family historian. He shared a number of personal stories, including an odd anecdote about his brother not processing pain the way other people do. Once as a young child Tom was attacked by a nest of bees and despite being stung dozens of times, he never cried. Later he jumped off some playground equipment and broke his leg but didn’t know it until much later. He supposes that perhaps this contributed to Tom being able to subject himself to the extreme elements and physical challenges of Afghanistan. These stories add to the ‘legendary’ element of Tom’s story as an almost mythic character.
FRED LITTLE, BROTHER
Fred was 8 years younger than Tom and looked up to him. They would often go for horseback rides together and say nothing for hours, just enjoying each other’s company without having to say much. This typified their relationship later as adults when they would go canoeing together in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Tom would rarely speak of the horrors that he had witnessed during the wars. This attests to Tom’s reserved nature and outdoor interests. There seems to have been a part of Tom that tended toward silence and introspection. He was a doer, not a talker. Fred suggests that one of the reasons Tom went to Afghanistan was to break with his father’s desire to take over the family business and cut his own path. Fred also attended the Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House in 2011.
CLIFFORD SCOTT, PRESIDENT, NEW ENGLAND COLLEGE OF OPTOMETRY
Dr. Scott only knew Dr. Little in the mid 2000s when Tom went back to school to officially receive his doctorate, but Dr. Little made a strong impression on him. Dr. Scott expressed his admiration of Dr. Little and his surprise that a man in his 60s would return to school to get his degree and receive the same instruction in a class with students 40 years his junior. He recalled that because of the severe conditions in which Dr. Little operated that he had encountered more rare conditions than any Western doctor he knew. He also reflected that Dr. Little was a man without pretense, uninterested in personal image or ego.
ABDUL “RAHIM” RAMGEED, PROJECT ADMINISTRATOR, IAM NOOR
Rahim was a day laborer that Dr. Little identified as a person of intelligence and leadership potential. He trained Rahim to become an ophthalmic technician and he later delegated management responsibilities to him. Rahim went with Dr. Little on an eye camp to Nuristan in 2004 and even at that time he regarded the situation as unsafe. In 2010, he suggested that Dr. Little cancel the trip and was horrified to learn of the team’s fate. Since Dr. Little’s death he has assumed many of the duties that Dr. Little performed on a day-to-day basis. The greatest lesson, he said, that Dr. Little taught him was to teach his subordinates everything he knew, because if he was killed, the work could continue. This mentality – that Afghans are the best way to solve Afghan problems – has resulted in a local management team that has been able to continued with Dr. Little’s work after his death.
KATE CLARK, JOURNALIST, AFGHAN ANALYST NETWORK
Kate Clark is a former correspondent for the BBC in Asia and currently writes for Afghan Analyst Network. She writes about politics and public policy in Afghanistan. She was also a personal friend of the Little family and handled media requests in the aftermath of the massacre. She researched the Taliban claims that the team was distributing Dari-language Bibles and spying for the U.S. Through her contacts, she was able to confirm that although some elements within the Taliban were quick to claim responsibility for the attack, they were probably not the people who carried it out. She was able to get statements from high-ranking members of the Taliban that condemned the incident and repudiated the allegations. This is an almost unheard-of scenario, as tribal loyalties will typically prevent the Taliban from critiquing its members or defending the reputations of foreigners. Kate Clark also accompanied the film’s team on a flyover of Nuristan and helped outline the journey that the team took as they returned from the eye camp in 2010.
DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER, AFGHANISTAN
Dr. Abdullah was a student at one of the hospitals that Dr. Little administered in the 1980s. Dr. Abdullah eventually left the medical field and become the personal adviser of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance. Massoud was assassinated in 2001 just a day before September 11th. He is still highly regarded in Afghan society and Dr. Abdullah rose to political prominence after his death. He first served as the foreign minister and then became a leading presidential contender and runner up in the Afghanistan elections. He went on to form a political party and has remained active. He is currently viewed as ‘the man to beat’ in the upcoming April elections. Dr. Abdullah also spoke at Dr. Little’s funeral. This was a brave political move, as the team was still accused of prosthelytizing. If true, this would be politically damaging, as he would be perceived as defending criminals. His confidence in Dr. Little’s character has also been instrumental in clearing the team of wrongdoing. Dr. Abdullah also spoke about the ongoing need for medical development in all sectors of Afghanistan’s infrastructure. He also offers a positive outlook for Afghanistan’s future. It is interesting to note that Dr. Little’s legacy in small part has extended itself to the highest levels of the Afghan government.
DR. SURAYA DALIL, MINISTER OF PUBLIC HEALTH, AFGHANISTAN
Dr. Dalil met with Libby to talk about Dr. Little. Dr. Dalil awarded the team a Letter of Thanks expressing her appreciation on behalf of Afghans for the work the team was doing. As a woman in a leadership position, Dr. Dalil is a progressive figure in Afghanistan. She has endured her own personal safety issues as a result of her achievements. Libby and Dr. Dalil talk about the ongoing struggle to provide medial services in the remote regions of Afghanistan and the security risks involved. She also talks about maternal health issues and the ongoing need for international development support.
DIRK FRANS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IAM
Frans currently oversees International Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He discusses IAM’s operating ethos, security protocols, and how his organization reacted to the killings. In particular, he addresses how IAM’s mission has changed in recent years and how it interacts with the Afghan government.
DAVID BROOKS, PROGRAMME DIRECTOR AT IAM NOOR
David Brooks oversees security training for IAM. In his interview he talks about the extreme measures the team went to in order to protect themselves on the trip – from the selection of the team members, to the route they took and the degree of preplanning involved. He reflects on the night he learned the team was killed. He also tells a number of stories about Tom’s legendary status among Afghans and his desire to build bridges with the most difficult and unlikely of allies.
Jim Couch was a close friend of the Little’s and knew them in the 1970s during the Dilaram days of Kabul. Jim still possesses a ‘hippie’ spirit and desire to challenge the narrow perceptions of some Westerners who see Afghanistan as a lost cause and a region of the world to be pitied. He tells a story of his own personal transformation while visiting the slums of Calcutta. Jim challenges the listener to view the world through a lens focused on the positive aspects of each society and the fresh need to learn from those being served in a development capacity. He reflects the relationship of his Christian faith to his humanitarian service in a Muslim context. He also tells stories about the various members of the eye camp team whom he knew.