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Everyday Heroes in Today’s Afghanistan

Each day, men and women from the United States and Afghanistan are meeting throughout Afghanistan, from the markets of Kabul to the homes of tribal elders in the northern, southern, eastern and western corners of the country. They come from different backgrounds and different cultures, but what unites them is their shared dream of a prosperous, secure, pluralistic, free Afghanistan. The Embassy will periodically highlight their work in this section of the website.

Sakeena Yocoobi of the Afghan Institute of Learning has met both former President Bill Clinton and President Bush in the past two years to ask for more resources for Afghanistan's fledgling education system. “The war in Afghanistan is hopeless unless there's a corresponding war on the country's illiteracy rates,” she said.

Today, the Afghan Institute of Learning helps 350,000 Afghan girls and women through education and medical intervention. "Education is the key issue," said Yacoobi, whose organization has provided invaluable guidance to Afghanistan’s education system. “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 money."

Since the Taliban were deposed, Yacoobi has been more influential than almost any other woman. In 2005, Yacoobi was one of 1,000 women collectively nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. The Afghan Institute of Learning ran 38 underground schools during the Taliban's rule. Today, Yacoobi's organization operates schools and health clinics on a budget of $1.5 million. "I've been doing this for 17 years," she says, "first in the refugee camps in Pakistan, then in the Taliban underground, and now inside Afghanistan. I can see the impact. I can see the change in our society."

Hailing from New York City, twin physicians Drs. Vince and Vance Moss are headed to Kabul, Afghanistan with Medical Teams International to treat Afghan children suffering from landmine blasts and other traumatic injuries. This is their second trip to the country in 17 months, and the brothers are scheduled to spend four weeks performing reconstructive surgeries at the Tanghi Saidan Community Health Clinic and training healthcare providers in updated surgical procedures.

The doctors have been instrumental in setting up a rehabilitation unit at the Kabul medical clinic and have raised more than $10,000 in donated medical supplies for this trip, including splints, bandages, crutches and collapsible wheelchairs. Medical supplies, equipment, and medicines are nonexistent in the region and patients often lose limbs and mobility because of the critical shortages. For this mission, the organization is partnering with Morning Star Development, a relief agency based in Kabul whose goal is to rebuild Afghanistan through community development. The agency plans to send nine teams to Afghanistan during 2008.

Sahar Adish was 9 years old when the Taliban entered her home town of Kabul. She's now a senior at the University of Virginia, and was recently honored for her film about how her family defied the Taliban and fled Afghanistan, seeking safety and an education in the U.S. Her story is part of nine short works by young people from around the world entitled, "Beyond Borders: Personal Stories From a Small Planet.” The film has already been honored with one of the broadcast industry's highest honors, the George Foster Peabody Award.

Sahar’s acclaimed film, "Sahar (Dawn): Before the Sun," is all the more poignant considering the troubles that young Sahar and her family endured in Afghanistan. While initially resisting the Taliban by holding secret classes for girls, the family eventually fled to the United States via Pakistan.

Also in Virginia, Afghan-Alexandrian fashion designer Roya Hashimi’s Old Town dress shop is full of clothing embroidered by Afghan men and women that the designer employed earlier in the year on a trip to Herat. She returned to Afghanistan in April for the first time in almost 25 years and opened a temporary factory where local workers, particularly women, could earn some extra income over the course of 12 days sewing dresses based on her designs.

Since her return to the States in early May after the month long trip, Hashimi has sold four of the dresses made by the Afghan workers, which range in price from $350 to $1,300. The faster the dresses sell, the closer the factory is to being able to stay open more often. Hashimi intends to use the profits from those dresses to eventually open a school for the village’s girls.

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