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“Voice of Hope” Dr. Sakeena Yacoobi Awarded 2017 Sunhak Peace Prize

Article by Farhat Popal December 5, 2016 //   3 minute read

Dr. Sakeena Yacoobi, founder and executive director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) and one of 29 inspiring individuals featured in the Bush Institute’s book, We are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope, has been selected for the 2017 Sunhak Peace Prize for her more than 20 years of work as an educator and humanitarian.

The Sunhak Peace Prize was established to honor individuals who make significant contributions to address worldwide suffering, conflict, poverty, and threats to the environment by promoting a comprehensive, future-oriented vision of peace. In Afghanistan, Dr. Yacoobi has done just that.

After the Taliban closed girls’ schools in the 1990s, Dr. Yacoobi’s AIL supported 80 underground home schools for 3,000 girls. Today, the organization rebuilds education and health systems in Afghanistan as well as provides emergency and legal aid. Seventy percent of AIL’s beneficiaries are women, and the organization is run mainly by female leadership.

In addition to the AIL, Dr. Yacoobi has founded a private hospital, high schools, and a radio station. Her holistic approach exemplifies her vision of a better Afghanistan through the betterment of Afghans – as educated, healthy, empowered citizens who are able to live improved lives.

In We are Afghan Women: Voices of Hope, she describes taking up this extraordinarily important work and tells of her first encounter at a refugee camp in Pakistan:

"I looked around and I was heartbroken. In Herat, when I was growing up, we did not have beggars in the street or people without shelter. Now, thousands of Afghans were living like that. I looked around and I thought, what am I going to be able to do as one person? How can I possibly help these people? I knew one thing, though. Education had changed my life. With education, I was able to help my own family. Once you have education, no one can ever take that away from you. If you have education, you can start over. The one thing my father had always wanted for me was to go after my own education. What, I thought, if I could educate these people in this camp?"

Dr. Yacoobi started with seven tents as a make-shift school in 1992.  Today, she provides schooling for 22,000 students each year through her programs. She embodies the idea that an educated population is the foundation of a stable and productive country, and that educated women are the pillars of prosperous families, communities, and societies.

Here at the Bush Institute, we’re proud to know Dr. Yacoobi and applaud her well-deserved award. She is an inspiration to us all.

Listen to Dr. Yacoobi’s TED talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/sakena_yacoobi_how_i_stopped_the_taliban_from_shutting_down_my_school.