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 began supporting schools and educational learning centers in Pakistan in 1996. With the fall of the Taliban more than 5 million Afghans returned home and many schools closed. However, approximately 2 million Afghans had no homes or jobs to return to and remain in Pakistan. AIL supports 3 schools and 3 Women’s Learning Centers in Pakistan presently. During the first 6 months of 2009, your donations helped AIL educate 2,161 Afghan refugees in schools and Women’s Learning Centers in Pakistan.
Recently one of the students in an AIL learning center in Pakistan said: “I have four brothers and three sisters. My father is dead and my mother is sick. We came to Pakistan 11 years ago and we live in a refugee camp. I am literate, and before I got married I was in the eighth class. After I was married, I couldn’t continue my education because all of the schools were too far from my house. I am older than my brothers and sisters, so I feel very responsible for my family. We are a very poor family. Before coming to this center, I did not know anything about sewing but I was very interested to learn. I wanted to learn to sew, wanted to open a tailoring shop and sew clothing for others to earn money so I could support my family. I heard that there was a center offering free classes to learn sewing and tailoring, and I became very happy. After talking with my family I joined the center and in six months I completed the sewing class and received my certificate. I can’t fully express what I am feeling. I am very happy, and I always pray for the AIL Executive Director, Sakena Yacoobi and for the AIL office trainers for giving us this opportunity.”
1145 Give Afghan Refugees the Gift of Education
In 2008, AIL educated 4,727 Afghan refugees in its schools and Women's Learning Centers (WLC) in Northern Pakistan. 72% of those educated were women and girls.
During 2008, one of AIL's WLC's reached a milestone-- its first class of girls studying in the 9th grade. This is a truly remarkable story as this group of initially illiterate girls from a very traditional, rural, conservative area in Afghanistan began studying with AIL 7 years ago and have continued their studies until now.. Here is one of the girl's stories:
"I am from a poor and narrow-minded family that does not allow their daughters to go outside the home to study. My father has always told me that he did not have enough money to pay the fees to send me to school; he barely had enough money to feed me and pay our rent. Besides, he said, if he allowed me to go to school my relatives and neighbors would say that he was not zealous enough since no one allows their daughters to go to school. One day my neighbor told me that there was a center that teaches women and girls and that you can learn a great deal from this school without paying any fees. At first I was really excited until I realized that I was 13 and might have sit in a lower class with younger students. When I was finally allowed to go to the center, I saw that many older women and girls were attending the school. Now I am happy because I can read, and write. I pray 5 times a day to those who open centers like this for women and older girls."
Following is the story of Jamila, a literacy student in the 7th grade. Jamila attends one of AIL’s centers in northern Pakistan that services many refugees from rural areas in eastern Afghanistan where women are generally not educated. This center grew out of a girl’s school that was established in 1996 – 1997. In 2002, it was clear that the students from the girls’ school needed a place to continue their education and a Women’s Learning Center was established there. One should also take note of the fact that Jamila is currently in the 7th grade, but has not been in school 7 years. Her story is one of hard work and a determination to become educated.
“I am very happy, I can’t believe that I am in the 7th class and all because of AIL. My family and I are very thankful for Prof. Sakena Yacoobi, the Executive Director of AIL for providing this opportunity for us. My father is a wrathful person and he didn’t want me to go to school and learn things. I was very sad, and day by day I grew older and could not go to school. Last year we changed our home. Some of our neighbors near our home told us about a women’s learning center provided by AIL for women and girls. Once again, I requested that my father give me permission to join this center. After many requests, when my father heard that this center was for women, he accepted and I joined this center. Now I am in the 7th class and every night I help my father with his shop finances. I am very happy that I can help solve my family problems, and now my father is also very happy. I always pray for Prof. Sakena Yacoobi and the AIL staff.”
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