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Innovation and Dedication Enable Girls' Education in Afghanistan

New York, USA – The UN NGO Committee on the Family–New York co-sponsored with the Universal Peace Federation a webinar titled, “Girls’ Education in Afghanistan? The Plight of Families and One Faithful Woman’s Solution” on October 26, 2023. The speaker, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, founder and executive director of the Afghanistan Institute for Learning, has dedicated her life to the cause of providing academic, moral, and spiritual education and health services to “all of her people of Afghanistan,” but especially for girls. She is the 2017 recipient of the UPF-affiliated Sun Hak Peace Prize.


For 30 years, Dr. Yacoobi has been fighting deeply ingrained prejudice against educating girls and women. Afghanistan is one of the worst nations in which to be female. Its literacy rate is the lowest in the world. Dr. Yacoobi’s life has been threatened numerous times by the Taliban. She shared one terrifying experience when she was surrounded by angry, rough, gun-toting men. But it turned out that these young men were angry that she was providing education only to girls. They felt that they too needed education because, in their words, “all they knew was how to kill people.” After she was able to arrange for their education, these young men decided to become her bodyguards, instead of terrorists.


Dr. Yacoobi succeeded in creating and managing hundreds of schools for girls and health facilities for women, even in the most remote areas. Her organization has educated thousands of people, including more than 5,000 girls. Unfortunately, however, since the Taliban took control of the country in 2021, all of her schools have been shut down. Furthermore, under this new regime, Dr. Yacoobi described widespread fear and destitution among families. As women are no longer allowed to work, few families have money to buy food and medicine. With tears in her eyes, she said, “There is no security, and families are desperate.” Then she added the sobering words, “But with so much turmoil in the world elsewhere, Afghanistan has been forgotten.”


As Dr. Yacoobi spoke, it was clear that the source of her commitment is her experience of God’s love for every human being, and her capacity to feel the real day-to-day suffering of others. With this well-spring of motivation, she has come up with a solution to provide education for children, women and families, even under the current dire situation in her country. She has developed various educational programs for children and adults, and has been broadcasting them through a channel called Meraj TV. This is an effective means because, although few families have internet access, they almost always have a TV in the home. This has allowed her to reach millions of Afghan families and children, far more than ever before.


In fact, Meraj TV is the most watched media in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the Taliban has approved of her programs. She thinks this is because they recognize that literacy, as well as teaching morals, health, self-discipline and personal responsibility, benefits the country. Her media enterprise is expensive, and funding it requires constant effort. During the webinar she shared an impressive short video explaining Meraj TV. 


As the moderator, I shared an experience I had with Dr. Yacoobi when she was speaking at the United Nations. After her talk she recognized a young lady in the crowd. With great delight, she called out to her. It turned out that this young lady, who had obviously accomplished much in her life to be at the UN, was in fact one of Dr. Yacoobi’s students many years ago. It was a happy and greatly rewarding reunion.


During the question and answer period, one participant asked, “What can be done to help?” Dr. Yacoobi’s answer was to please share with others about Meraj TV by showing the video. (See link below.)


Other comments from the audience conveyed shock about the poverty and deprivation of so many women and children, but also their appreciation for the passionate, sacrificial commitment of this elderly Muslim lady for the humblest of people, who, nevertheless, have limitless potential.


By Lynn R. Walsh, Director, UN Office of the Family
October 26, 2023



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