Sakena Yacoobi’s long efforts to improve the educational opportunities for women and children in Afghanistan have been awarded this year’s Opus Prize by the private, independent nonprofit Opus Prize Foundation. Yacoobi, 2009 recipient of the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership, received the top $1 million prize for humanitarian work along with two runner-ups who each received $75,000.
Yacoobi founded the Afghan Institute of Learning in 1995 to first establish learning centers in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. Prior to this, her own education in medicine and public health care occurred in the United States, where she studied at the University of California, Stockton, and at Loma Linda University. She began her career as a professor at the University of Detroit before being hired to survey a refugee camp in Pakistan by the International Rescue Committee. That was the beginning of her life’s work. Today, AIL is the largest Afghan NGO.
“At that moment, as soon as I arrived … I said, ‘I have to do something, and what could I do as an individual? How could I help them?’ ” she says in an interview conducted for the Opus Prize.
Yacoobi’s fellow Opus Prize recipients this year are Fahmina Institute, a center of progressive Islamic research in Cirebon, Indonesia; and Sr. Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association. The Opus Prize, according to the prize website, is a faith-based humanitarian award “given annually to recognize unsung heroes of any faith tradition, anywhere in the world, solving today’s most persistent social problems.”