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 315 schools or educational learning centers and 13 health clinics. Most of them are community-based. 220,970 Afghans have been educated in AIL schools, centers and post-secondary programs, 998,088 Afghans have received health services and 1.5 million women and children have received health education. Overall 6,778,026 Afghan lives have been directly impacted by AIL programs.
AIL’s goal is to help Afghan people and communities gain the skills and knowledge they need to become self-sufficient. Almost all of AIL’s Educational Learning Centers are community-based. AIL offers many different classes at Educational Learning Centers, and, thanks to your donations, 8,922 Afghan’s have been trained at AIL’s centers during the first 6 months of 2009.
Here is the story of Kubra, a young woman who returned to Afghanistan from Iran. “I heard about the center in my town and have found that it is ideal for me because it has great teachers and the education I receive is high quality. First I was admitted to the tailoring course, and after I passed it I was advised by my teacher to take the advanced class. After completing this course, I became a professional tailor. I am very fortunate; I have many customers and often stay up until midnight sewing my customer’s dresses. I also have a contract with the local market and sew products according to their orders. Before I came to this AIL center, I was a very disappointed person and I thought I could not do anything to help my family. What I am now is because of the AIL center in our area.”
AIL recently received an update from Hafisa, a young woman that had taken classes at a Women’s Learning Center in rural Herat, Afghanistan. As a teenage girl, Hafisa began going to the WLC in her village where she became literate and learned to sew. In all of her classes, the teachers talked about human rights, peace, health and leadership, emphasizing that anyone can be a leader, even if in a small way.
After graduating from the center, Hafisa was married and moved away. Hafisa’s sewing skills quickly made her popular in her new village with many people bringing her dresses for sewing. Soon, people in the village began asking her to open a center and teach other women to sew. Hafisa remembered the leadership lessons she learned at the AIL WLC in her village and knew that she could start a class.
Starting a center to teach women to sew is a fairly novel concept. At first, her family ignored the requests, but due to community persistence, Hafisa’s family eventually allowed her to open a center in her home. Now she uses one room of her house to teach a sewing class and has 40 students. She collects a fee from the students, and this income has helped to change her family’s economic situation. She is respected in her community and her family is proud of her. Whenever she goes to her own village to see her parents, she visits the AIL center and thanks AIL for giving her the opportunity to be a useful person in her community. Not only did Hafisa learn to sew, she learned to be a leader and found that she could run a self-sufficient center.
More than 90% of AIL’s projects are community-based. The community where projects are located work with AIL staff on the project. Part of AIL’s input is leadership training, which helps community members be better leaders. One of those community members made this comment after taking AIL’s leadership workshop:
“Zainab said, "I can run my educational center much better then previously because I learned about different methods of leadership. I can solve problems that we face sooner then before and after the workshop, my communication has became much better in my field of work and I have become more responsible too.”
We’d like to share the story of Omid, a student of one of AIL’s centers in Mir Bacha Kot. This grassroots center was begun in 2003, and the following story shows the importance of these centers.
My name is Omid, I live in Mir Bacha Kot and am a student in grade 5. I am studying English at the AIL center in my village, and I have finished two levels of this course. I am very lucky to be a student here because my teacher is very talented. He uses new teaching methods and is a very hardworking teacher. He gives us speeches, reading and writing homework and he checks our work regularly. My father is illiterate and cannot help me when I have problems with my school work. It is important to me to become educated so that day by day my situation in life can improve.
Another wonderful story that we’d like to share is that of Mursal, a computer student in one of AIL’s grassroots centers.
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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