There's a new focus on women worldwide. The New York Times magazine dedicated their entire issue one week in August on women in the developing world. Of particular focus was a newly launched book written by the well-known Pulitzer winning couple Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl DuWunn titled: "Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide". The press focus on this timely book is significant- from reviews in Harvard and People magazine, to upcoming segments on shows like "The Today Show", the time has come for women and their issues worldwide to be in the spotlight.
Sakena Yacoobi and her organization the Afghan Institute of Learning is one of the topics in Chapter Nine of the book. Dr. Yacoobi grew up in Herat, Afghanistan and then came to the United States to study at the University of the Pacific and Loma Linda University. Concerned about the condition of her people back in Afghanistan, Sakena returned to Pakistan to work in Afghan refugee camps and later went to Afghanistan. Although the Taliban forbade girls from getting an education in Afghanistan, Sakena was instrumental in establishing a string of secret girls schools with community support.
Today, the Afghan Institute of Learning has multiple education programs in Pakistan and in seven provinces of Afghanistan. There are educational learning centers for women and children, preschool programs, post-secondary institutes, a university, and teacher training programs. In addition, AIL has an in-depth program of health education and treatment for women and small children. Since its start in 1995, AIL has trained nearly 16,000 teachers and over 3.5 million women and children have received a quality education. With the health programs included, AIL has directly impacted over 6.7 million Afghans.
Sakena has been and continues to be recognized for her work. Her philosophy is to develop a program from the grass-roots level so the community members are an integral part of the process. State Kristof and DuWunn in their book Half The Sky- "American organizations would have accomplished much more if they had financed and supported Sakena, rather than dispatching their own representatives to Kabul...The best role for Americans who want to help Muslim women isn't holding the microphone at the front of the rally, but writing the checks and carrying the bags in the back."
Dr. Yacoobi and the work of the Afghan Institute of Learning have been supported by multiple grantors and organizations over the years. "I wish to thank everyone who has helped in this important work," states Sakena. "I want to share with each and every contributor the joy of seeing a young woman, who has a renewed interest in life because she can now read, or the happiness of a widow who has learned a skill that will allow her to support her children.
"We now have children who are healthy because of inoculations, and women who did not die during childbirth who have happy, healthy babies. My wish is that these small steps that allow awareness and growth in families will lead to the growth of our country."
Recently, we spoke with Sakena, and she has this message to all the supporters of AIL:
"It is an honor to be included in Nicholas' and Sheryl's book Half The Sky. So many foundations and individuals have contributed to the work that the Afghan Institute of Learning has been able to do in Afghanistan.
"From the bottom of my heart I want to thank all who have understood the plight of Afghan women and children, and have reached out with compassionate, caring support.
"May God reward your generosity......."
Recently, AIL was asked by the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs to report on the impact AIL’s programs have had. We were amazed by our findings. Since beginning in 1996 through May 2009, 220,970 Afghans have been educated in AIL schools, centers and post-secondary programs and overall 6,778,026 Afghan lives have been directly impacted by AIL programs.
AIL has been a leader in providing computer training to Afghans. During the first 6 months of 2009 your donations helped 354 Afghans attend computer classes in AIL Educational Learning Centers. In addition to classes in AIL centers, 29 people have participated in workshops to improve their computer skills.
From January through April, AIL has been holding a workshop to help teach Afghans Information Technology skills to help them in their jobs, specifically in the field of education. Two participants of this workshop were interviewed and had the following to say:
“I had many problems with computer programs in my own classes before, and now I can go my class and solve my students’ problems confidently. I will implement all the topics that were discussed in the workshop in my classes to raise students’ awareness. I understand now that the computer is a main part of our lives.”
Another participant said, “I thought that installing Windows and other computer programs was so difficult and that I would never learn to do it. Today I understand that it isn’t difficult to do. This has been the best workshop I have ever attended and I have learned about many issues from this workshop.”
During 2008 288 Afghans took computer courses in AIL centers and schools. At AIL’s Gawhar Shad University, in 2008, there were 116 students studying in the university’s three year computer science college.
My name is Mursal, I am a student at one of AIL’s centers. I love to learn, and when I saw that my friends were able to use computers and speak English, the international language, I began seeking a good course that would suit our cultural life. After a long time I found this center and saw that it was appropriate for me and I joined. Now I am studying Math, English and Computers. I am so happy to have a computer class here because many of the students really needed to learn computers as well as English. We want to thanks the AIL Office for establishing this class for us. We wish them the best of luck.
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