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, AIL has supported 13 clinics serving 998,088 patients and providing health education to 1,520,374 women and children. 220,970 Afghans have been educated and received skills training in AIL schools, centers and post-secondary programs. 27, 619 Afghans (more than 70% female) have received teacher training or capacity-building training. Overall 6,778,026 Afghan lives have been directly impacted by AIL programs.
Afghanistan has the third highest infant mortality rate in the world (151.95 deaths/1000 births or 15% or births). AIL is proud that the infant mortality rate in our clinics is about 2%. During the first 6 months of 2009 AIL helped to deliver 136 babies, of which 133 were happy and healthy.
We’d like to share the report of a healthy birth from one of the midwives with you. “A patient by the name of Qamar came with her family at 11:00 am to our clinic. They were shouting for us to save her child immediately. She was carried to the delivery room where we saw that she had been bleeding. We began an IV with medicine to help ease her pain. Fortunately, she delivered the baby successfully. We resuscitated the newborn, and the newborn’s heart and breathing became normal and eventually he began to feed. We spoke to the mother about breast feeding, as well as other topics related to caring for her baby including vaccination. At the end of the visit, the mother became stable and thanked us.”
We’d also like to share the story of a woman who delivered a baby boy at an AIL clinic. “My name is Noor and I am 45 years old and have 7 children. I did not want any more children, but my husband insisted. When I was pregnant with my 8th child, I visited the clinic and they told me that the child was breech and that there was more risk of having a child because of my age. So I was really worried, but Allah helped me and with the help of the doctors I successfully delivered a cute baby boy. I am very thankful to AIL and the clinic.”
Recently, a very nervous man came to one of AIL’s clinics saying that his wife was dying. He said she was in her last month of her pregnancy. Her labor pains had started hours earlier, but she had not yet delivered the baby. The head of the clinic quickly sent an ambulance to bring her to the clinic.
After she arrived she was taken to the midwives. They did a physical exam, and everything was normal, the baby was still alive. The woman told the midwives that her husband’s first wife had died during delivery. The midwives calmed the woman, telling her that she would deliver the baby safely. Soon, the woman delivered a healthy baby girl. The woman and man were very thankful for the well trained staff at AIL’s clinic.
Afghanistan continues to have one of the world's highest infant and maternal mortality rates. Through its three rural health clinics in Herat and Kabul, the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) provides family planning, ante and post natal care and safe delivery environments for women. In 2008, AIL provided reproductive health care services to 19,425 women. Furthermore, 59,229 women received education about health topics which included reproductive matters. Community Health Workers, serving villages near to the two Herat clinics, also provide reproductive health services including family planning advice to 53,443 women annually. In Afghanistan, this kind of information is only given when requested.
Following is a story from one of the clinics, which illustrates how AIL clinic staff is helping women villagers on a day to day basis:
A midwife said: "Bigum was a returnee patient of the clinic. She came to the clinic for post natal care. After a month she asked about family planning methods. I gave her information and suggested Lynstrolol tablets because it doesn't decrease breast feeding. But she told me she has forgotten to take pills in the past. I suggested injections but she didn't like that so I explained about the IUD which she decided on. After a vaginal examination, I inserted an IUD and gave her health education to take care of it. After 15 days she came to the clinic for a follow up and she was happy with it. She told me that she has told other women about the advantages of the IUD."
For the long term, AIL is also training nurse/midwife/health educators through its intensive course in Kabul. This course has been extended in length to 18 months and has between 45 and 65 students at any one time. In the last two years, two classes of nurse/midwife/health educators have graduated and graduates are now working in clinics and hospitals in Kabul Province.
Following is a story clinic staff about Jamila, a graduate of the AIL nurse/midwife/health educator course, who is now working:
"During Ramadan the staff left early, and only Jamila was left in the clinic. A woman came to the clinic, and she had a breach presentation delivery. Jamila performed the delivery perfectly. The personnel of the clinic were very happy with Jamila and impressed that when she was alone she could handle the case and they were happy and thankful for Jamila and for AIL, which trains and graduates such students."
Thanks to all of you who, through your donations to this project, are helping to educate and reduce the maternal mortality rate of Afghan women!!
We would like to share a report from one of AIL’s Outreach Vaccinators in Herat, Afghanistan.
I went to the Koshkak Village as part of the vaccine program and saw that a group of people had come together and were discussing the advantages getting vaccinated. I stayed there and listened to their ideas and questions about the vaccine program. One asked “What is the advantage of being vaccinated?” Another answered “Before the immunization program, our children suffered from polio, diphtheria and measles, but now the vaccine protects them from those dangerous diseases.”
I praised them for their information about vaccines, in addition to what they already knew, I gave them health education and said that the BCG vaccine prevents your children from getting tuberculosis and this vaccine is injected into a baby’s arm just days after birth; we give them the Polio vaccine at that time too. I also told them about the TB clinic that AIL has, and described the symptoms of TB.
I also explained to them that the DPT-Hep B vaccine protects their children from four dangerous diseases. Diphtheria, Whooping Cough, Tetanus and Hepatitis B and that this vaccine is injected during the 6th, 10th and 14th weeks of a baby’s life.
I explained that when we give the DPT-Hep B to their children, we also give the Polio vaccine. I said that we give two rounds of the Measles vaccine in the 9th and 18th months of life.
I also let them know that in addition to the immunization program for children, that we give women the Tetanus vaccination. We give the OPV vaccine to children up to five years old.
I saw in the faces of people that they were very happy about this health education and then I asked them to go home and bring their children with their vaccine cards so that I can see who I must vaccinate. They followed my instructions and the results of the vaccine program that day were excellent for me.
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