Not Another Brick in the Wall

Helping the Change We Wish to See in Afghanistan

Wednesday 20 May 2009, by Ceyda Turan

Class in session: Sakena
Yacoobi drops some knowledge—
and inspiration—on the IHSP.

Sakena Yacoobi founded the Afghan
Institute of Learning (AIL), in 1995 to
“help address the problem of poor access
for women and children to education and
health services, their subsequent inability
to support their lives, and the impact
of this lack of education and health on
Afghan society.” This was the year the
Taliban came to power and banned girls’
education. Her goal was to “empower poor
women and children by providing them
access to education and health services
through an organisation designed and
run by Afghan women.” Over the past 14
years, the AIL has pioneered innovative
and culturally appropriate ways to deliver
health and educational services, and
community building.

The Afghan Institute of Learning is one
of the largest women-led nonprofit
organisations in Afghanistan. Yacoobi
was in Montreal on May 1st and 2nd
to attend the McGill Institute for
Health and Social Policy’s Educational
Equity: Global and National Strategies
Conference. She spoke of the work of
the AIL in providing education, income-
generating skills, and hope in the hearts
of Afghanis to forge a new Afghanistan
with a bright future.

The Taliban’s ban on girls’ education
above the age of eight prevented the
vast majority of young women and girls in
Afghanistan from finishing even primary
school. But, through the Home School
Project, the AIL kept education for girls
alive by providing grades one through
eight underground. Underground home
schools were the only educational
option available to Afghan girls for more
than four years. In 2001 (the last year
of the underground home schools), the
AIL had 3,000 girls in 80 home schools
in Jalalabad, Kabul, Herat, and Logar.

The AIL was the first NGO to start
Women’s Learning Centers (WLCs)
in Afghan refugee camps in 2002,
in Pakistan. WLCs trained teachers,
provided health education—including
midwifery training—and offered
preschool through university classes.
Women also learned income generating
skills and human rights education. The
AIL served 18,000 students through its
Women’s Learning Centers in 2006.

Upon the request of communities
in Afghanistan, Yacoobi started
establishing WLCs in Kabul, Herat,
Parwan, Balkh and Bamiyan. The AIL
now has twenty-two Women’s Learning
Centers in Afghanistan, where there
were none during the Taliban years.

The AIL has trained more than 13,000
teachers in interactive, student-
centered teaching, thereby accelerating
students’ ability to learn quickly. More
than 390,000 Afghans have had access
to quality education thanks to the AIL’s
teacher training programs.

The AIL has also been providing a pre-
school education program serving over
300 Afghan children per month in Kabul,
Herat, and Peshawar. The students
study a wide variety of subjects— Dari,
English, math, drawing, gymnastics,
handicrafts, health, and peace lessons.
They also learn and perform Afghan
songs, dances, poems, and short skits,
to build their self-esteem as well as their
knowledge of their heritage and culture.

The AIL’s teacher training and school
support program has been an invaluable
service for tens of thousands of
Afghan children whose education was
interrupted by the war and civil strife in
Afghanistan. School support includes
teacher training, onsite monitoring
and supervision of teachers, teachers’
salaries, administrative support,
curriculum development, and provision
of school materials and supplies. The
AIL supports three community schools
with 1,100 Afghan refugee students
in Pakistan, two community based
schools for 1,300 students in Herat, a
pre-school for 300 students, advanced
classes for over 200 boys in Mir Bacha
Kot, and scholarships for students in
Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Yacoobi has been working with
community members to realize their
desire to educate their girls. Community
members cooperated with each other and
the AIL to secure space for the schools
and to insure that the schools, teachers,
and students could teach and learn safely.

Since the overthrow of the Taliban, the AIL
has played a major role in reconstructing
Afghan society. Today, it provides services
to 350,000 women and children annually
through its 42 program sites, including
four health clinics and 38 learning centers
in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Of the 400
Afghans that the AIL employs, over 70%
are women.

To read more about the work of these
courageous women, and/or to support
them with a donation, please visit

CEYDA TURAN is the Associate Editor of AIJ

Photo: IHSP

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