Women's Learning Center in Herat, Afghanistan

by Afghan Institute of Learning

2004 International Women's Rights Prize Honors Work in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Tuesday June 29, 10:49 am ET
The Peter Gruber Foundation Celebrates Courageous Efforts to Help Women and Children

ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands, June 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Visionary educator Sakena Yacoobi and the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) have been selected by an international panel of experts to receive the 2004 Women's Rights Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation. Professor Yacoobi is President of AIL, which she founded and leads and which serves more than 350,000 Afghan women and children annually.

Each year the Foundation presents a gold medal and a $200,000 unrestricted cash award to individuals and/or groups that have made significant contributions, often at great risk, to furthering the rights of women and girls and advancing public awareness of the necessity of these rights in achieving a just world. This year's prize, which will be shared by the Institute and its founder, will be presented on December 10, International Human Rights Day, at the United Nations in New York City.

Understanding the tremendous power of education, Sakena Yacoobi's parents sent her from her home in war-torn Afghanistan in the early 1970s to attend the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Once there, she worked feverishly to improve her reading and writing from the fourth-grade level and catch up with her classmates. After earning her degree in Biological Sciences, she went on to earn a Masters in Public Health from Loma Linda University in 1981. Since 1990 she has devoted her life to bringing education and health care to Afghan women and girls in both Afghanistan and the overflowing refugee camps of Pakistan.

After more than a quarter century of war and instability, the literacy rate of Afghans, particularly women, was among the lowest in the world. When many schools closed in 1995 and the foundations of education throughout the country were in danger of collapse, Sakena Yacoobi and two other concerned Afghan women founded the Afghan Institute of Learning to help address the lack of access to education for women and girls, their subsequent inability to support their lives, and the resulting impact on society and culture. They committed AIL, a non-governmental organization (NGO), to bringing peace and dignity to the Afghan people as they struggle to overcome oppression, devastation, and injustice.

During the Taliban years, AIL ran 80 underground schools as well as mobile libraries in four Afghan cities. By the end of 2003 the organization served more than 350,000 Afghan women and girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan's refugee camps through its girls schools and programs in teacher training, health education, human rights education, women's leadership training, and literacy. With its 470 employees, 83% of whom are women, it is a model and a leader in rebuilding Afghan civil society.

The official citations read: "The Women's Rights Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is hereby proudly presented to Sakena Yacoobi, President of the Afghan Institute of Learning, for her courageous vision and leadership in implementing quality education, human rights training, and safe healthcare for Afghan women and children. Despite significant personal risk during the time of the Taliban and in the aftermath of violence and war, she has worked tirelessly to improve the life, opportunities, and social infrastructure of Afghanistan's neediest residents and its refugees in Pakistan."

"The Women's Rights Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is hereby proudly presented to the Afghan Institute of Learning for expanding health and education opportunities for women and children in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The unwavering commitment of its dedicated teachers, doctors, and health care providers under the repressive Taliban regime and during post-war reconstruction has truly empowered hundreds of thousands of Afghan women and children, citizens and refugees alike."

Peter Gruber, founder of the foundation that bears his name, said, "It is a great disadvantage that women, who represent half the world's population, are restricted by laws or customs that hinder not only their basic human rights, but their contributions to the welfare of all. The work of Sakena Yacoobi and the Afghan Institute of Learning gives new life and hope to the women and children of Afghanistan and thereby to Afghan men and society as a whole. For the liberation of a person is the liberation of all persons, regardless of gender."

The Foundation's Women's Rights Advisory Board, a group of eminent individuals known for their expertise and commitment to women's rights, selects the annual winner or winners of the prize. Current members are: Dr. Linda Basch, Executive Director, National Council for Research on Women, New York City; The Honorable Bernice Bouie Donald, U.S. District Court, Western District of Tennessee; The Honorable Claire L'Heureux Dube, retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada; Professor Shadrack Gutto, Director, Centre for African Renaissance Studies, University of South Africa; The Honorable Navanethem Pillay, Judge, International Criminal Court, The Hague, and Women's Rights Prize laureate 2003; Kavita Ramdas, President, Global Fund for Women; and Zainab Salbi, President, Women for Women International.

The Women's Rights Prize was established in 2003 and is recognized as the leading international prize in the field. The co-recipients in 2003 were The Honorable Navanethem Pillay, the South African judge noted for her leadership of the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and Pro- Femmes Twese Hamwe (Women Together for Women), an umbrella organization of Rwandan grassroots women's groups.

The Peter Gruber Foundation

The Peter Gruber Foundation was founded in 1993 and established a record of charitable giving principally in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it is located. In 2000 the Foundation expanded its focus to a series of international awards recognizing discoveries and achievements that produce fundamental shifts in human knowledge and culture. In addition to the Women's Rights Prize, the Foundation presents awards in the fields of Cosmology, Genetics, Neuroscience, and Justice. Further information about the Peter Gruber Foundation and its awards is available from


CHI's project partner in Afghanistan, the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), has been able to greatly expand its Women's Learning Center services to hard-to-reach, under-served rural women and children in Herat province over the last 18 months by opening two satellite Women's Learning Centers in Sar Asia and Darb-e-Iraq. By May 2004, CHI and AIL were serving 672 women and children in these three centers. Students study in literacy, English, tailoring, knitting, calligraphy, math, Arabic, carpet weaving, computer, and pre-school classes. One student of AIL's WLC in Herat told this story about how CHI and AIL have helped her. She said

"I am Zarghona. I live in Herat Province. I am 20 years old. My parents forced me to get married. From the beginning, I was interested in becoming an educated person to serve the society but alas, there wasn't any opportunity of getting education. The wars and conflicts in Afghanistan, particularly the period of Taliban's regime, badly affected Afghan people, mostly females. Fortunately, AIL paved a way for war weary Afghan people and helped them get educated. One of my friends advised me to join AIL's Literacy Course. Presently I am a student in AIL's Literacy Course. I have completed six months Literacy Course (3 grades) in AIL. Now that I have become literate I feel so happy since I have achieved my goal...I am so thankful to AIL and its colleagues who assisted Afghan females in achievement of their goals."

CHI and AIL also opened a much needed women's and children's health clinic in Herat during 2003, which now serves more than 2,000 patients per month. The clinic has seen over 28,000 patients since it opened and approximately 70% of patients are women. AIL is offering health services through this clinic to the women and children of 45 villages in Herat province. The clinic has a mobile clinic that visits 16 villages monthly and women travel from more remote villages to receive services. Clinic services include medical exams, health education, treatment, dressings, injections, and prescriptions. The clinic especially focuses on maternal/child health because Afghanistan has some of the world's highest maternal and child mortality rates. Maternal/child health services offered through the clinic include assistance with delivery, pre-natal and post-natal checkups, deliveries, and training for traditional birth attendants.

CHI and AIL have opened a new computer lab in Herat city in response to requests from students for computer classes. During October of 2003, CHI and AIL offered a one-week, intensive information-technology training seminar for 21 teachers and professionals in addition to the regular computer classes in programs like Windows, Word, Access, and Excel.

During 2003, CHI and AIL offered a teacher training seminar in Herat after many months of coordinating with the Afghan government. The seminar was so well-received that AIL teacher trainers were immediately invited to return to Herat in December and train more Herat teachers. AIL's teacher training seminar trains teachers to use interactive, student-centered teaching techniques that promote critical thinking skills and logic for problem-solving among students. These methods contrast sharply with traditional teaching methods in Afghanistan which have consisted mainly of rote memorization and dictation. Teachers trained by AIL have reported that their students learn to read much faster and that they learn more in classes once the teachers use the new methods. CHI and AIL also provided training to kindergarten teachers in Herat and have more than doubled enrollment at the AIL Herat Pre-school.


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Organization Information

Afghan Institute of Learning

Location: Dearborn, Michigan - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.afghaninstituteoflearning.org

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