Brave Thinkers November 2010

Sakena Yacoobi

Antony Hare

Sakena Yacoobi began the work that has become her mission in 1992. That’s when she set up a school for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Her school grew quickly—from 300 to 15,000 students in that first year—and so did her commitment to educating women and girls in Afghanistan, where the brutal Taliban denied them all schooling. Back in her own country, Yacoobi conducted classes underground, risking raids, flogging, and imprisonment. Nearly two decades on, she has educated more than 350,000 people.

Though the Taliban were driven from power, Yacoobi thinks the gender inequality ingrained in Afghan culture still threatens the country. As an Afghan Muslim born in Herat and educated in the United States, she’s uniquely suited to push for the type of change that connects traditional Afghan society with well-meaning reformers and aid workers from the West. During the 17 years I’ve worked to promote literacy for girls in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, I’ve been amazed by Yacoobi’s focus. She understands that—although we drop bombs, surge troops, build roads, provide electricity and computers—unless girls are educated, lasting progress won’t be made.

Of course, the coming year will be important. As U.S. and nato troops look to withdraw from the region, Yacoobi worries about a backslide in the fragile progress that’s been made. She’s once again speaking out against the Taliban; she’s insistent that the hard work of changing Afghan society remains largely undone. All the while, Yacoobi’s effort reminds me of the Persian proverb that says “When it is dark, you can see the stars.”

Greg Mortenson is the founder and executive director of the Central Asia Institute and the author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools.
Presented by

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In