Agents of Impact | August 27, 2021

Sakena Yacoobi, Afghan Institute of Learning

Dennis Price
ImpactAlpha Editor

Dennis Price

ImpactAlpha, Aug. 27 – The Taliban is in power in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Not going away are the education centers, health clinics and legal aid services of the Afghan Institute of Learning. “Our democracy may have fallen for now. Ideas do not disappear so easily,” writes Yacoobi, the former Michigan college professor who founded the network nearly 30 years ago, in a widely shared letter. “We will expand our facilities to help those who lost everything, including their homes, in the fighting.”

Yacoobi has been here before. When the Taliban were first in power, she founded underground schools in refugee camps in Pakistan and secret schools for 3,000 girls in Afghanistan. When the Taliban fell in 2001, the schools became public learning centers and Yacoobi added health clinics – and workshops on love and forgiveness. The institute “was started in secret and it will continue in secret if it must,” she says. For now, the schools and clinics remain standing.

In a second letter this week, Yacoobi made a plea for women, unity and a new narrative. Our women are not children in need of care. We contribute to the country,” she wrote. “We are here, waiting, and willing to help.” The institute, which enters communities only when requested, has launched nearly 400 education centers, trained 30,000 teachers and educated a half-million children since 1996. Three million patients have been treated at almost two dozen health clinics that have become hubs of emergency food aid and personal protective equipment in the COVID pandemic.

A decade from now Yacoobi hopes Afghans will look back at a time when they finally came together. “We put down the guns, we turned away from war and we gave the children books,” she writes. “We took this moment in time and created something far bigger than a shattered nation.”