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Bay Area Afghan leaders hopeful for 'The Kite Runner' movie

December 14, 2007 (San Francisco Chronicle): Leaders of the Bay Area's Afghan community hope the release Friday of "The Kite Runner," a motion picture set in Afghanistan, will rekindle interest in efforts to reconstruct their war-torn country - and draw an audience for a "Rebuilding Afghanistan" summit on Saturday.

The summit, at a church in Fremont, will highlight the work of 20 grassroots groups building hospitals and schools, replanting trees and removing land mines in Afghanistan, among other efforts.

"I saw the movie and I hope it will bring more attention to Afghanistan," said Mo Qayoumi, president of Cal State East Bay, who will be the keynote speaker at the event. "We hear about security issues and the influence of the Taliban, but nobody's really talking about the building of the country, and that's key."

After the U.S. invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001, Qayoumi, an Afghan-born engineer, threw himself into reconstruction, advising the fledgling government on everything from establishing a currency system to developing an electrical grid.

But foreign aid and investment have seriously lagged and per capita postwar spending in Afghanistan is just a 10th of what the international community put into rebuilding countries like Kosovo and East Timor, said Qayoumi. So even small-scale efforts by the Hayward-Ghazni Sister City Association or the Afghan Friends Network in San Francisco fill an important role, he said.

"In terms of scale, it's minute," Qayoumi said. "But I'm very happy because it's getting Afghan Americans interested in their country, especially a new generation."

The Fremont summit's organizer, Masood Sattari, who has presented five similar forums, hopes the event will inspire Afghans and other Bay Area residents to contribute their time and money to a country that has endured Soviet occupation, civil war, Taliban rule and then U.S. intervention over the course of just one generation.

"People want to see the country prosper, they want to see peace, see people healthy, with adequate drinking water and the basic things you need in life," Sattari said. "I wanted to give them a way to do those things."

He hopes that if American audiences see "The Kite Runner" they will be moved to support groups like those he is featuring at the summit.

"Perhaps we can capitalize on the emotions people feel," Sattari said. "Maybe we can connect."

The movie is based on the best-selling 2003 novel by San Jose writer Khaled Hosseini, a native of Afghanistan.