Help Afghan Women Deliver Healthy Babies Safely

by Afghan Institute of Learning

“Reach out to others and give a gift to yourself.”

Sakena Yacoobi, founder and executive director of the Afghan Institute of Learning, urged the advanced degree graduates of Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California to “reach out to others and give a gift to yourself” in the process in her 2010 Commencement speech. She has been a model of such action since 1995. Under her leadership, the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) has delivered education and health services to over 7.1 million Afghan women, children and men. In appreciation of her work, SCU honored her with an honorary Doctor of Education Honoris Causa degree.

“Health and literacy are keys to human rights, empowerment and self sufficiency,” says Dr Yacoobi, Mann Award winner.

Less than a week later, Dr. Yacoobi was at the Global Health Conference in Washington, DC to receive the 2010 Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights established to honor the late Jonathan Mann and to call attention to the vital links between health and human rights. The Award is bestowed annually on an individual who shows an overwhelming commitment to health and human rights, often at great personal danger.

Sakena Yacoobi considers access to health care and education as human rights and takes a holistic approach to advancing health and human rights, particularly for women. Growing up in Afghanistan, Dr. Yacoobi saw firsthand the damage that inequity and a lack of education and lack of access to health care can inflict upon women and children. After receiving her undergraduate and masters degree in health in the U.S., she returned to help her fellow countrywomen. As the Taliban were closing schools for women and girls in Afghanistan, Dr. Yacoobi founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in 1995 to fight oppressive traditions that left women uneducated and put their lives at risk.

Dr. Yacoobi and AIL believe that “all Afghan women can be catalysts for change in Afghanistan. With an education that teaches them how to think and to educate others, as well as an awareness of their human rights, women can create a better future for all Afghans… we know that educated women will educate families, communities, and the nation to bring lasting peace.” And the same is true for health. Health education is integral to all of AIL’s activities, as knowledge about health empowers individuals to care for themselves and their families.

Believing that access to education is a basic human right that should be available to all women and girls, AIL began by providing literacy, primary and secondary education, university classes, and teacher training for women across Afghanistan. AIL pioneered the concept of Women’s Learning Centers in Afghanistan, which teach literacy, health education, human rights education, religious study, and income-generating skills. AIL was the first organization to offer human rights and leadership training to Afghan women. AIL has integrated health programs into its work and now operates seven clinics that provide prenatal care, safe delivery, well-baby care, immunizations, and primary-care services. AIL also operates mobile medical outreach campaigns, trains and supports community health workers, and developed a nurse/midwife/health educator course that graduates some of the most highly sought-after healthcare providers in Afghanistan.

AIL currently serves 350,000 women and children each year in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has provided education, training and health services to over 7.1 million Afghans since 1995. AIL is run by women and operated by women: of its 480 employees, more than 70% are women.

Every student in every one of AIL’s Women’s Learning Center s, every patient in AIL’s seven health clinics, and every family served through AIL’s Community Health Worker program receives basic health education along with health services and has opportunities to receive culturally sensitive additional “healthy families” training. AIL also provides 2-5 day workshops in reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, self immolation (rarely done by others for security reasons) and general health. This program targets young women, ages 10-25 years old, so that they have the knowledge they need early enough to prevent the health problems of their predecessors.

Dr. Yacoobi’s approach to health and human rights is changing the culture of Afghanistan. Social dynamics have improved among families and neighbors as a result of the contributions healthy and educated girls and women make in their homes and communities. Under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable, Dr. Yacoobi is rebuilding family cohesion and a culture that respects the rights of each individual.

Though at times weary from the many demands put upon her, Sakena has no plans to slow down. “There is so much that needs to be done to help my people,” she says. “I have deep hope for Afghanistan, and I am proud of the women who get up in the morning, say goodbye to their family, and go to work… go to learning… because they know that they must learn. The only way they can stop problems is to learn. They are learning, and they are not afraid.”

Dr. Yacoobi’s vision is to transform the way that Afghans regard human rights for women and for all Afghans. She firmly believes that when the war is over, the Afghan people will be self-sufficient and a people who respect everyone’s rights.

We’d like to share some great news with you that will give you a better understanding of our project and the work we do in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Through the generosity of the Skoll Foundation, a timely video was produced about life in Afghanistan and the work AIL is doing to make a difference. The film producer and crew did a beautiful job capturing the essence of the best of the Afghan people, and the struggles they work with to achieve a better life. This film is now on YouTube, and it will be the best seven minutes you spend today. Moderated by Sakena Yacoobi, AIL’s executive director, this video offers a true taste of Afghanistan. Here’s the link to view it: We are also adding this as a permanent link to this project for future viewing. Your donation makes a precious impact on the lives of Afghan men, women and children. We thank you for your past support, and encourage you to forward this message to those who can help to continue this important work.

A reminder: June 16 is a special Global Giving Matching Day! - GlobalGiving will be matching all donations up to $1,000 per donor per project for this project at a 50% match. If you could like to donate again to our project, your donation will go further on June 16th. Thank you for your support….


In 2009, AIL staff in their 5 clinics delivered 304 babies. Of those, 300 were healthy. That’s a stark contrast to the infant mortality rate in Afghanistan of 15%. The Afghan Institute of Learning has a popular 18-month nurse/midwife/health educator program with a long waiting list; graduates of this program can quickly find jobs with medical facilities. AIL would like to expand their nursing program, but is unable to due to limited funding. A Midwife reports the following: “Wahida is a returnee patient to our clinic. She came to us during her first pregnancy and attended the clinic from the beginning of the pregnancy for pre natal care. She promised us that when she was ready for delivery she would come to the clinic for a safe birth. She then came in labor with her mother and mother in law. We made all delivery preparations for her, and she had a normal delivery. Her mother and mother in law were very happy because their daughter and new grandchild were OK. They said it was very helpful for them that all maternity services in this clinic are free and that they would, from now on, encourage people to come to the clinic for safe deliveries. The baby breast fed and then the grandmother took him vaccinations in the vaccine room. After two hours when they left the clinic, they were happy and appreciative of AIL’s health services. Other AIL Accomplishments in 2009 included: • AIL trained over 1,800 Afghan teachers in pedagogy subjects, leadership, human rights, and school health. These teachers went to their classes and directly impacted over 500,000 students teaching these important subjects. • Nearly 23,000 students (primarily women and children) attended classes at AIL educational learning centers. • Over 362,000 Afghans received medical treatment and health education from AIL’s 6 health clinics and community health worker program. • In January 2010, AIL expanded humanitarian aid efforts with the harsh winter and reached out to 22 families in need. AIL staff delivered to each family quantities of rice, cooking oil and tea. Most heads of the family were widows with children from Herat, and were recommended by community members. • In February 2010, flooding in the Enjil district of Herat destroyed many family homes, and AIL responded with a concerted effort of initial food aid. Reminder: On March 16, 2010, GlobalGiving will be matching all donations made to any project on by 30% (up to $1,000 per person)! If you could like to donate again to our project, your donation will go further on March 16th!!!

Afghanistan is in the news a lot these days. As a donor to a project in Afghanistan, you may be wondering if change is happening, and if your donation really makes any difference. Following is a message from Dr. Sakena Yacoobi that answers your questions. It’s part of our annual newsletter, where we also share progress reports from several areas, and the impact AIL’s work is having in Afghan lives. This newsletter is below in a PDF format; we invite you to click on it and read ALL the details……

From Sakena Yacoobi: First, I want to thank all of you for supporting the work of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL). Your support is so important. Yes, the funds you send help us to bring education and health to so many Afghan women and children. But, more importantly, in this time of increasing violence and insecurity in Afghanistan, your support helps Afghans to know that they are not forgotten. It gives ordinary Afghan women, men and children the courage to keep studying, to keep going to clinics and to keep working for peace.

Today you probably hear that Afghanistan is a place of war, terrorist bombings, burning of schools, kidnapping, drugs and all kinds of other horrible things. And it is true that in every province of Afghanistan, including the capitol, every single day, these kinds of things are happening. But what you might not hear in your news is that everyday many women, men and children of Afghanistan get up in the morning….. say goodbye to their family…..and go to work….. go to schools and centers ….. go to trainings……because they know that they must be educated. They know that the only way they can stop these problems is to be educated. So they are learning, they are teaching and they are not afraid.

And when there is no electricity or no clean water or no school or no road or no job and there is no help from the national government or the international agencies, Afghans, particularly women, are joining together in community or with their local officials to find ways to solve their own problems. And, with your help, AIL is helping them to do this. I want to let you know that as dark as it seems to be in Afghanistan now, much is happening. Afghans, themselves, are changing. They are educating themselves; they are making sure that their children are educated; they are finding new ways to solve their problems. I would ask you to walk with us a little further on our journey towards peace.

TO READ the rest of our annual newsletter, please click on the PDF link below and it will open for your inspection-


Thank you for your support. Your desire to make a difference in this world has made a difference, and we are so thankful that Afghan people have had their lives changed with your help.

We wanted to share with you a very special opportunity to give more than 100% from November 10 through December 1st. Please share this with those you know who care. During this time, we are privileged to receive additional matching funds from your donation through Global Giving of at least 30%. The need is still great. Afghanistan struggles to become a country of strength and stability.

In the month of September, the Afghan Institute of Learning delivered 29 healthy babies. This may seem like a few but just a few years ago, no one delivered their babies in the clinic. Now the community trusts AIL and the women know that they will have a safer delivery in the clinic than at home. So, they come to the clinics for deliveries if it is possible. Unfortunately, because of security concerns, the clinic cannot stay open in the night so that more women could have their deliveries in the clinic. Participants at a recent Reproductive Health class learned about pre and post-natal care. Many women did not know why pregnant women felt pain during pregnancy. They had many pregnancy-related situations they had experienced, and now understand what is happening. Students also learned about infant health. Many infant children have died because of diarrhea and now these women know ways to help their children. This was the first workshop of this type for them- they were happy to learn about many important matters, and that they could freely share their problems and their personal experience. An AIL midwife at one of the clinics described how she assisted in a delivery: “A patient came from Robat Torkan at 8:30am for delivery. She was afraid because she had had vaginal bleeding in previous deliveries. We encouraged her and told her not to worry. After an exam we gave her Amp Oxytocine, and serum ringer 1000cc and at 10 o'clock she gave birth. The baby weighed 4 kg and was normal. After delivering the mother had bleeding. The doctor ordered the necessary medicines to stop the bleeding. By 2pm, the patient was normal and we gave her advice and education. She thanked us for our services and was so happy. She then left the clinic with her new baby.”


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Organization Information

Afghan Institute of Learning

Location: Dearborn, Michigan - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Sakena Yacoobi
Dearborn, Michigan United States

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