As the keynote speaker at Global Washington’s Redefining Development Conference, Kravis Prize winner Sakena Yacoobi inspired and challenged her audience to help educate the women and children of Afghanistan.

Yacoobi was selected to deliver the event’s opening address in recognition for providing education and health services to more than 9 million Afghan women and children since the founding of her organization, the Afghan Institute of Learning. Global Washington published an article by contributor Nina Carduner, who detailed Yacoobi’s speech.

Yacoobi began by describing her own “happy and secure” childhood in Afghanistan. Her family did not have much, but their needs were met. After travelling to the U.S. to complete her education, Afghanistan was invaded and Yacoobi and her family became refugees, unable to return to their home. But Yacoobi’s heart remained in Afghanistan, and so she pursued a career in public health in hopes of someday returning to provide medical resources to women and children.

The turning point in her career, Yacoobi said, came during a visit to an Afghan refugee camp. Her shocking testimonial described how women “were like animals. … They felt less than human,” as their fathers, husbands, and brothers were taken away from them. Yacoobi rejected the idea that women were incapable of doing things for themselves, and dedicated her life to educating Afghan women and children.

She began in Pakistan, where a majority of Afghan refugee camps were located. Met with criticism at first by religious leaders who believed that education was not appropriate for children, Yacoobi eventually convinced many of them to become teachers themselves. According to the article, she reached 27,000 children that first year, and soon discovered that “education in the camps was not just a critical need, but a clear desire for the refugees.”

The Afghan Institute of Learning has faced considerable challenges since it’s founding, yet continues to empower women and children in Afghanistan through education and health services. According to Yacoobi:

“The women of Afghanistan are not the same women they were five years ago. They have been oppressed for forty years, and now with education, they will not accept the treatment they experienced in the past. When children have mothers who are no longer helpless, they will succeed.”

To read Global Washington’s full article please visit,

Or watch Yacoobi’s address at,