The Power of Context

Read as an isolated struggle, the story of Peacemaker Sakena Yacoobi is impressive. Sakena founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in 1995, the same year that the Taliban came to power. Her organization began “underground” and now serves 350,000 women and children annually.

Read in the context of Afghanistan’s recent history and current reality, Sakena’s story is astonishing. Last month I read Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, a novel that describes the last thirty years in Afghanistan through the lives of two women. I was blown away thinking: this is the context of Sakena’s work.

Today, I read a Time Magazine article (“Afghanistan’s Girl Gap“) which notes that only 28% of Afghan teachers are women. In the article, the Afghan policy adviser for Oxfam, Matt Waldman, says , “It is absolutely crucial to increase the number of female teachers if you want to see more girls in school.” This is exactly what Sakena and AIL are doing. In addition to providing teacher training (and training in literacy, health, income generating activities, leadership, women’s rights and vocational skills), AIL is itself the employer of 470 Afghans, 83% of whom are women.

Four of my friends from graduate school are currently working in Afghanistan and even those personal ties do not make it possible for me to “get” what’s going on in this war zone. It occurred to me today that I need every article, every historical novel, every shred of information to help me to begin to appropriately value Sakena’s work. Still, as the story of contemporary Afghanistan unfolds, I know enough to be grateful for it.