Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, Hero and ‘Mother of Afghan Education’

by Abigail Richardson from Oakham in United Kingdom

‘Education is a human’s right. It is the right of every individual.’[i]

145568Dr, YacoobiEva HallerDr. Yacoobi is Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL), an Afghan women-led NGO founded in 1995. The organization was established to provide teacher training to Afghan women, to support education for boys and girls, and to provide health education to women and children. 

Born in HeratAfghanistan in 1957 Sakena Lida Yacoobi triumphed at school, no mean feat where the odds for a woman learning to read in Afghanistan are 5 to 1, and was the first in her family to pursue higher education. She also became the first woman from her hometown to earn a degree in the United States, receiving a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Biological Sciences from the University of the Pacific, Stockton, California in 1977.  She went on to achieve a master’s degree in Public Health from Loma Linda University, California in 1981.

After graduating, Yacoobi remained in the USA and worked as a health consultant and teacher. As a professor at D’Etre University in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, she taught biology, mathematics and psychology. However, during the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, millions of Yacoobi’s nationals had become refugees, including her parents and so, once she had helped her family to relocate to the USA, she returned home in 1990 to help the rest.

“I said to myself, I must do something. What could be more than education? No matter what you give people, they need to speak for themselves. People need to stand on their own and people need to think critically; they need to be creative; they need to be innovative. People need a peaceful environment. How can one provide all those things? The education is the only way. Once you educate them, they will do for themselves. That’s why I decided to come back to Afghanistan. It wasn’t easy; it was very tough.”[ii]

Back home, Yacoobi set about launching schools and teacher training programs for women and girls. She began her work in a refugee camp in Pakistan and gained the trust of the refugees by living amongst them for seven years:

“I had no need to convince them; they saw my lifestyle. They saw I was a good person fulfilling my duties and being religious at the same time. To be correct, I am not a religious fanatic; I’m a spiritual person. But at the same time, I believe in the quality of education. They realized that I wasn’t against their religion or values; I wasn’t brainwashing them. So, they trusted me and sent their children to school.”[iii]

Yacoobi also joined the International Rescue Committee and later became coordinator of its Female Education and Teacher Training Program: “To have a good system of education, you must have a good system of teacher training.”[iv] In 1995, after the Taliban had closed girls’ schools, Yacoobi established the Afghan Institute for Learning (AIL) and, since its founding AIL has provided education and vocational training to 13 million women and children.

145571Dr. YacoobiEva HallerUnder Yacoobi’s leadership, AIL continues as an innovative organization, working at the grassroots level helping communities and individuals. Currently, AIL provides curricula for kindergarten through university education and 44 education centers provide basic literacy education and various vocational courses. Today, Yacoobi has six honorary doctorates, including from Princeton University and is also the co- founder, President and CEO of Creating Hope International (CHI).

Over the years, Dr. Yacoobi has been decorated with many awards and prizes including with the Sunhak Peace Prize (2017), the Harold W. McGraw Prize (2016), the WISE Prize for Education Laureate (2015) and the Opus Prize (2013).  She is both a Kravis Prize and Gruber Prize awardee and was nominated as one of 1,000 women for the Nobel Peace Prize.

She serves on several boards and panels including New Global Citizens, the Advisory Council for the Center for Social Impact Learning at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and is a former board member for the Global Fund for Women. She is an advisor to the Fetzer Institute and is a member of the US - Afghan Women’s Council.

Click HERE to watch the Eva Haller Salon where Eva leads a discussion with Dr Yacoobi and Rev. Chloe Breyer on the realities of being a woman in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Dr Yacoobi updates us on the present situation and speaks about what she believes can and must be done and how each of can support the current crisis.


[i] Eva Haller Salon with Dr Yacoobi and Rev. Chloe Breyer


[iii] Ibid

[iv] Eva Haller Salon with Dr Yacoobi and Rev. Chloe Breyer





Page created on 10/1/2021 4:00:22 PM

Last edited 10/1/2021 4:13:39 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Eva Haller Salon Series with Dr. Yacoobi - Watch this video of the Eva Haller Salon with Dr. Sakena Yacoobi & Rev. Chloe Breyer on the realities of being a woman in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
Mother of Afganistan - Read this article on Dr. Yacoobi on Aurora, the Humanitarian Initiative