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Afghani Student, Blinded in NYC Subway Attack, Focus of New Documentary

Nooria Nodrat has certainly faced challenges in her life that would have broken most other human beings. Not only has she emerged stronger, but her capacity and will to help others have fueled a fierce ambition to realize her goals.

Her life in the aftermath of a series of tragedies that began in her native Afghanistan and continued in New York are captured in a new 35-minute documentary, New York Nooria: An American Journey, which will premier at Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue (at 2nd Street), Manhattan, on Saturday, January 3, 8:45 p.m. Admission is $5.

Nodrat, who is a senior at New York City College of Technology (City Tech) majoring in human services, immigrated to the United States in 1991. Before this, her husband passed away, leaving her with two young children, and she watched in horror as fanatics kidnapped her brother, who is still missing. When she relocated to New York, she was forced to leave her children behind and finally reunited with them four years later.

As if those experiences weren’t enough to bear, Nodrat was robbed of her eyesight in 1997 on a New York City subway platform; a drug-addicted teenage girl repeatedly punched her in the head, inflicting such extensive damage that it was necessary for doctors to remove both of her eyes. In Afghanistan, both her husband and older brother had been blind and Nooria had worked as a proofreader for the Institute of the Blind. Little did she know then how her Braille skills would serve her well in her own struggle.

“When Nooria lost her vision on the subway, she seemingly lost a small piece of the ‘American Dream’ … or did she? That’s what this documentary is about,” says director David Cho. “Through the camera lens, our overarching goal was to capture Nooria and her environment in an unvarnished urban reality. Instead, we got vivid, thematic clarity of such human traits as hope, persistence, community, inspiration and the will to thrive.”

Countless New Yorkers and others read about Nodrat’s courage and determination in a widely published profile that appeared in the local and regional media as she trained to participate in the 2006 New York City Marathon. As in previous years that she competed in this race, she completed the 26.2 mile course. The following year, she was awarded the New York Post/News Corporation’s Liberty Medal for Freedom.

Despite the losses that have beset her, Nodrat has done well in her City Tech studies, making the Dean’s list twice so far, an honor reserved for those with the highest academic achievement. She also found time to contribute to the College and larger community in many ways.

Nooria has received various awards and scholarships in recognition of her activism and academic achievements from the National Federation of the Blind, the American Council of the Blind and the New York City Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, among others. In 2006, she received City Tech’s Benjamin H. Namm Scholarship.

While president of the National Federation of the Blind's New York Student Division from 2006 to 2008, Nodrat helped blind high school and college students navigate the higher education system. Her strong knowledge of computers and technologies for the visually impaired proved to be very useful. In addition, she has worked with the heads of the disability offices of 15 area colleges to develop strategies for students with disabilities. She is also an active member of the Women’s Association of New York, volunteers for the Catholic Guild for the Blind and the Jewish Guild for the Blind, and was a volunteer in the Department of Music Therapy at the Queens Center for Progress.

Following graduation, she plans to earn master’s and doctoral degrees from a CUNY college (either The Graduate Center or City College) to prepare for a career as a clinical psychologist. Her son and daughter have done well academically “and have made me exceptionally proud,” she says.

“Nooria is an amazing woman. The hardships she has endured and overcome, plus her capacity for empathy will help her help others,” says City Tech Professor Justine Pawlukewicz, chairperson of the human services department. “We are very proud of her.”  

Indeed, Nodrat has ambitious plans to create a foundation to help blind women and especially children in Afghanistan, and to assist other organizations that help women and the disabled here and in her native country.

“Blind women and children in Afghanistan have been suffering for more than three generations,” Nodrat says. “They desperately need the support of humankind and my support as an Afghani individual.”

At the January 3 Anthology Film Archives screening of New York Nooria, Nodrat hopes to collect a $2 donation above the $5 cost of admission to go towards setting up the Nooria Nodrat Afghan Women and Children Foundation.

One has the sense that this purposeful woman, who has overcome what for others would be insurmountable obstacles, will realize her dreams.

Note: Those attending the screening of New York Nooria can arrive at the Anthology Film Archives at 8:30 p.m., for pre-show refreshments provided by videomaker David Cho. The screening will be followed by a new full-length documentary, Dissonance, made by and about a videomaker named Moniere, who as a child emigrated with his family from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Brooklyn.

12.15.08


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