WISE Prize for Education winner Dr Sakena Yacoobi with Sheikha Moza bint Nasser and Michelle Obama
When the Taliban banned education for girls in Afghanistan in the 1990s, they hadn't reckoned with the determination of Sakena Yacoobi.
Under her guidance, the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) offered leadership training to women and supported 80 underground home schools for 3000 girls.
The organisation grew and, since 1996, 12 million Afghans have benefited from its education and health programmes.
Those amazing achievements were recognised yesterday when Dr Yacoobi was awarded the 2015 WISE Prize for Education - which recognises an individual or team for their outstanding contribution.
Accepting the $500,000 award at the seventh World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar, she said: “I feel honoured and blessed to be chosen as this year’s WISE Prize for Education Laureate. It is particularly meaningful because this is such a crucial time in Afghanistan.
"My people live in terror and poverty. They are suffering and feel hopeless. Yet, at this moment a light has appeared.
"Every girl must be educated - that is my dream" Picture: AIL
"With this prize, we know that we can continue to educate more and more Afghans, giving them hope and encouraging them to go forward no matter what they are facing. It is such a great gift to me, and I dedicate the prize to the Afghan Institute of Learning and all of the women, men and children we are educating.”
Dr Jacoobi, 65, received the WISE Prize from Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. She also met United States First Lady Michelle Obama, who addressed the summit.
A passionate educator, Dr Jacoobi started working in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan in the early 1990s. She trained teachers, opened schools for children and learning centres for women.
AIL was launched in 1995. The WISE Prize website said AIL "has established itself as a groundbreaking, visionary organisation which works at the grassroots level to empower women and communities".
Dr Jacoobi said: “My vision for Afghanistan is a free country, a society where everybody is educated. Every single girl must be educated in Afghanistan - that is my dream.
"I don’t have a small dream. My vision is big, has been big and is going to be big, constantly. And I think that there is going to be a day that this country will rise up and I am looking for that day.”
Watch video about Dr Jacoobi's work
Last year the WISE Prize for Education was awarded to Ann Cotton, founder and President of the British charity Camfed (Campaign for Female Education). More than three million students in over 5000 schools have benefited from its programmes in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi.
Camfed's approach breaks the cycle of poverty, child marriage, high birth rates and high rates of HIV/AIDS by working in partnership with constituencies that have power over a girl’s education and life choices.
Previous winners of the WISE Prize were:
2011 - Sir Fazle Hasan Abed. Founder and Chairman of Bangladesh-based BRAC, one of the world’s leading development organisations. Over the past 40 years, BRAC has contributed directly to the education of more than 10 million students, from pre-primary to through secondary levels. Now active in nine other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
2012 - Dr Madhav Chavan. CEO of Pratham, the largest education NGO in India, won or his remarkable contribution to low-cost mass literacy and numeracy learning. Dr Chavan devised a simple formula to bring basic education to millions of under-privileged children in India and the organisation’s programs are now active in 17 of the 28 states.
2013 - Vicky Colbert. Founder and Director of Fundación Escuela Nueva. Convinced that without basic education for all, nothing could be achieved, she has transformed the lives of ordinary people in Colombia and beyond by putting the power of quality education in their hands. Escuela Nueva has been implemented throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, East Timor and Vietnam, reaching more than five million children around the globe.