Notes from the Field

Women-Led Institute Provides Education throughout Pakistan, Afghanistan

March 5, 2010

Humaira Aman* was born in Kabul, and along with thousands of other Afghans, was forced to relocate to a refugee camp in Pakistan after the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the late 1970s. While relocated in Peshawar, she pursued a medical education at a local university for three years. However, in 1997, the Taliban decreed that the university shut down, and Humaira was forced to put her studies on hold. Several years later, seeking any opportunity to continue her education, Humaira enrolled in Gawhar Shad University, an institution established by the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in Peshawar. In 2006 she received a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and subsequently became the first woman assistant lecturer invited to teach at the university. Four months ago, Humaira returned to Kabul to work with AIL and assist in their mission to provide education, training, and health services to women, children, and other disenfranchised groups throughout Afghanistan.

Humaira is one example of the many women AIL has helped in its 15 years of activism. Established in the Afghan refugee camps in Peshawar in 1995, AIL is an Afghan woman-led NGO that provides services including teacher trainings, workshops, learning centers, schools, and health clinics through their Afghan and Pakistan-based offices. Over its history, AIL has established a reputation as a progressive and visionary organization. They say their goals are simple but crucial to Afghanistan’s future:  empowering women and children to become active participants and leaders in their communities, and providing education – particularly for women and girls – because it is the key to self-reliance and prosperity, an essential piece of the future peace and recovery of Afghanistan.

Girls study at a school in Afghanistan. Access to education continues to be one of the biggest problems to Afghan women, according to the Foundation's 2009 Afghan poll.

Girls study at a school in Afghanistan. Access to education continues to be one of the biggest problems to Afghan women, according to The Asia Foundation's 2009 Afghan poll.

AIL was the first Books for Asia recipient in Afghanistan after The Asia Foundation reopened its Kabul office in 2002. Since then, AIL has received seven shipments totaling over 1,000 books. Through the years, the donations have ranged in subject matter depending upon the needs and interests of AIL and the people it helps. Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, founder of AIL, says, these books assist up to 350,000 women and children in Afghanistan and Pakistan each year, and have been “invaluable” and “infinitely useful” to her organization’s day-to-day work.

In addition to libraries at their offices in Herat and Peshawar, AIL’s Kabul office maintains a library filled with Books for Asia donations. These books serve as tools for a variety of purposes including workshops on a range of topics like leadership training, women’s rights, gender perspectives, democracy, and peace studies. At the adjacent AIL kindergarten, teachers have translated the text of several popular children’s books into Dari to assist in the students’ development of English-language skills.

AIL employees are also welcomed and encouraged to utilize the library whenever possible. Humaira Aman continues to avidly read the available publications and insists that she is not satisfied with the state of her education. In fact, she wants to continue to “learn more and more” through the information provided in these books. When reflecting on the influence that AIL and Books for Asia have had in the lives of women throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, Humaira Aman commented that, “without education, they [Afghan women] can’t get anything to improve their life or economics … they must have education.”

On March 8, 2010, we celebrate International Women’s Day and the tireless work and perseverance of organizations like AIL, and people like Humaira Aman and Dr. Sakena Yacobi. It is through their efforts that programs like Books for Asia are able to provide desperately-needed resources to thousands. When individuals like these have access to the resources they need, they hold the opportunity to empower women and children of Afghanistan and Pakistan for a brighter, more productive, and peaceful future.

*Due to security concerns, this name has been changed.

Mohammad Bashir is The Asia Foundation’s Senior Program Officer for the Foundation’s Books for Asia program in Afghanistan and Elizabeth Grant is The Asia Foundation’s Management Support Officer in Afghanistan. They can be reached at mbashir@asiafound.org and egrant@ag.asiafound.org, respectively.

View all posts by Elizabeth Grant

View all posts by Mohammad Bashir

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