Life in hard places

Film on work of Tom Little needs backing for Afghanistan trips

"The Hard Places," a documentary about Dr. Tom Little, is being made by PBS and Dan Swinton, with the help of Libby Little.

"The Hard Places," a documentary about Dr. Tom Little, is being made by PBS and Dan Swinton, with the help of Libby Little.

— Libby and Tom Little met in high school before going to separate universities. They married after graduation, and Tom helped his father, also an optometrist, in his practice. It was in the 1970s that Tom heard about the growing need for eye care in Afghanistan and spoke with his wife about moving there to help out. The couple moved in 1976, raised their family and lived in Afghanistan almost full time for 30 years.

“For the first two years we got our feet wet,” Little said. “Then, once we got involved and it never got better, Tom felt very strongly that you don’t just skip out when things got rough. I believed that, too.”

The Littles lived in Afghanistan through the Russian invasion and occupation, the emergence of the Taliban and the War on Terror. During that time, Little worked to set up clinics and hospitals through IAM’S National Organization for Ophthalmic Rehabilitation (NOOR) and traveled to see patients throughout the country. The program has evolved into a system of hospitals with a training and education centers for locals and mobile eye camps.

“The thought is to train the Afghan people to care for themselves,” said Little. “It’s the only sustainable way to work in a setting like that and it’s the best situation for everyone involved.”

Filming got the documentary has already begun. Swinton said the film will cover Tom’s early life in Claverack and Kinderhook, and then move on to his time in Afghanistan and Delmar. The crew has already collected archival material that is being edited together, and filming has been done at the Little’s home in Delmar.

Currently, the crew is attempting to raise $20,000 to pay for a trip to Afghanistan to film. The money will be used to cover travel costs and salaries. Other money is being found through private donations and grants, but the travel funding has to be gathered up soon. There isn’t a good sense of how safe conditions in the country will be as U.S. troops withdraw, so the crew must go when there is still some security in the area.

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