Sakeena Yacoobi is passionate about two things: Afghanistan and the importance of a good education. Combining those passions, Yacoobi founded the Afghan Institute of Learning in 1995 in an attempt to increase literacy rates and improve the overall level of education in her home country. Not only has the undertaking been enormous, it has been dangerous as well. During the six years the Taliban was in control, militants targeted schools and any individuals who appeared to be influenced by Western culture. Yacoobi didn't blink an eye at risking herself though, she was willing to sacrifice anything necessary for the greater good, including her own life. Born in Herat, Afghanistan and raised by parents who encouraged her to pursue her education, a rarity for young women in the region, Yacoobi has understood and valued learning her entire life. The past eight years since the fall of the Taliban, Yacoobi has had more freedom and opportunity to grow the Institute and increase the reach that it has in the Middle East. Although the Taliban's official reign is over, the violence has not completely stopped and the risk of being a teacher in Afghanistan is almost as great as the risk of going into the military. Yacoobi has traveled around the world, but specifically to the United States, in recent years to talk to leaders, including Presidents Clinton and Bush, about refocusing financial resources on education rather than war. The recipient of Gruber Prize for Women's Rights and a nominee (along with, collectively, 1,000 women) for the Nobel Peace Prize, Yacoobi is recognized as one of the principal educators in Afghanistan today.
"Education is the key issue. It's linked with poverty. If you have an educated society, you will manage to have skills and jobs and finances. We need long-term education, quality education. Billions of dollars have poured into Afghanistan, but if you don't educate people, you are wasting your time and you are wasting your money."
"When I was (a girl) in Afghanistan, my father could have married me to someone. I had many people come to ask for my hand. But my father asked me, 'Do you want to marry or do you want to study?' And I said, 'I want to study.' He said, 'As long as you want to study, I let you.'"