“This film is dedicated to the children of Afghanistan who have not had an education. Those who cannot read or write are blind,” states Mohammed Khan Kharoti. “Learning is light. It shows you the way to go.”
This is the triumphant story of Kharoti, born in 1943 to a nomad family in Afghanistan. However, it is also a disturbing story about the building of a school for both girls and boys in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan.
After 31 years of warfare, the education infrastructure in Afghanistan has crumbled. Kharoti states, “The biggest problem in Afghanistan is illiteracy.” Ninety percent can neither read nor write.
Kharoti, an accredited physician in Afghanistan, is a nuclear medicine technician for the Bess Kaiser Health Care system in Portland, Ore. When his patients and colleagues learned that he was working two jobs to send money home to help his brother set up a small school in Afghanistan, they insisted on helping.
One patient set up a charitable foundation for Kharoti’s endeavor. Bess Kaiser colleagues joined on as board members and money was raised. Back in Afghanistan the surrounding villagers participated in building, brick by brick, a beautiful structure that ended up educating 1,200 students.
At the film’s introduction, Kharoti noted that when one Afghan is killed, 10 more join against the killer. But when one school is built, there is an opportunity for understanding and peace.
“Stealing the Light” is the first in a three-film project by director-producer Aimie Burns. She is examining the role quality education programs have in promoting peace and economic development in third world countries.
On her website, it is noted that approximately 120 million children in the world are unschooled and more than 800 million adults worldwide are illiterate. “The UN has said that it will cost an additional $5 billion a year to achieve universal literacy; compare this to the $189.3 billion President Bush requested for the Global War on Terrorism for the 2008 fiscal year, and that is 37 years of funding universal literacy.”
Mohammad Khan Kharoti introduced this film at its premiere at the famed Bagdad Theater in Portland, Ore. He is also featured in the film as the mind and spirit behind building this school in his old hometown in Afghanistan. His grown children are also involved in the effort and have gone to teach there.
Even though the school was staffed by Afghans, even though the villagers were the ones who built it, and even though the school had become the center of the region, the unfortunate happened. One night, under an unknown command, the entire school was looted of its chairs, blackboards, supplies, and even the beams in the ceilings. The buildings were then razed by a bulldozer.
Kharoti was heartsick, but he says he knew it might happen. Whether it was because a Taliban or tribal faction resented the American backing, whether it was because girls were being educated or whether it was from economic desperation to sell the equipment in the school, he does not know. No culprit has been identified.
The point of the movie was to show the fruitlessness of the war currently being fought. Hope, the light, is what Kharoti sees in education. Some unknown force stole this light and his foundation is in a holding pattern for future plans. However, right now he hopes Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama will see this film. He is hoping funding for the current war will be transformed into not just rebuilding this school that was ruined, but in constructing schools across his country. His eyes light up as he says, “30, 40, 50, schools — everywhere in Afghanistan!”
Director/Producer: Aimie Burns
Rock Creek Productions, Inc.
Premiere: Sept. 22, 2010
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