Belquis Ahmadi(*) is an Afghan aid worker who had known, cooperated and traveled with Tom Little under the most difficult conditions of the 1990s civil war. Read her warmly commemorating the slain aid worker in this guest contribution to our blog.
My heart began to ache when I saw the name – Tom Little – among those aid workers who had recently been brutally murdered in Northern Afghanistan.
I was born and raised in Afghanistan, and first met Tom in the late 1980s while I was working as a nurse in a war-wounded surgical hospital in West Kabul. At the time, Tom was working as an optometrist with the International Assistance Mission.
After the Mujahedin took control of the capital in 1992, a fierce civil war erupted between the different factions all jockeying for power. Bullets and rockets rained down on the people of Kabul on a daily basis. West Kabul suffered the most with houses looted, shelled or burned down. During those dreadful days, Tom stayed in Kabul, not once hesitating to help the Afghan people he had come to respect for so much.
I had the privilege to travel and work with Tom on several occasions. His professionalism, and compassion for those most in need, was unrivaled. He was a quiet person and an extremely patient listener. I remember one of our trips very clearly; we traveled to a refugee/displacement camp near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Nangrahar Province to provide eye care.
I watched Tom as he attended to the young and old, many of whom had to walk several miles to get to the camp. On this particular trip, an elderly man was carried to the camp by his son. The man said his vision was blurry and he couldn’t see well enough to read the Quran. Tom checked the man’s glasses and noticed that they had not been cleaned for some time; Tom cleaned the glasses and gave them back to the man, who then took out a copy of the Quran from his pocket and started reading a verse aloud. The man turned to Tom and told him that every time he recited the Quran he would pray for him.
In the summer of 1993, on a hot evening during the peak of the civil war, the hospital was literally overwhelmed by the wounded, among them a young man who had sustained injuries all over his body including severe injuries to his eyes. The surgeon on duty told me that there was no point in operating on the young man as the hospital did not have the equipment or a surgeon with the specialized skills. It was a very emotional moment for all of the hospital staff.
The nearby Noor Eye Hospital had closed due to deteriorated security so, when my hospital received a patient with eye injuries we would have to send a car to bring a specialized surgeon. On this day, my director refused to provide a car because the conditions outside the gate were too unsafe. I ran the few blocks to Tom’s residence; the sound of the gun-fire was drowned out only by the exploding rockets raining down from the adjacent hills. When I reached Tom’s house I explained the situation and he told me that he needed to get to the eye hospital for the necessary equipment. I watched from the car as he snuck into the hospital, and then emerged lugging the equipment. After this, we drove to the home of an Afghan eye surgeon who agreed to perform the surgery.
These are only a couple of the many memories I have of Tom and of the countless lives he has helped or saved. Over the years so many people in Afghanistan have shared this appreciation of Tom’s generosity. My American friends have questioned me regarding reports that Tom and the rest of the medical team were proselytizing and distributing translations of the bible. I answer this question by saying that my family and I have known and interacted with both Tom Little and Dan Terry (one of the other slain aid workers) since the 1970s. None of us have ever been given a bible or any other form of Christian literature, or were invited to convert. The Taleban’s claims are baseless accusations used to hide their true cowardliness.
These brutal murders are an unfortunate and a sad reminder of unfinished work in Afghanistan. Their loss and sacrifice must not go in vain and the international community should not waver in its commitment to strengthen the rule of law and continue helping the Afghan people by honoring Tom, Dan and the rest of the slain aid workers and their team’s work.
(*) Belquis Ahmadi is a human rights lawyer. She has over 17 years of experience working on international development and relief programs focusing on human rights/women’s rights and the rule of law.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020