Nobel Peace Prize nominee explains how Pacific inspired her to help others

Sakena Yacoobi

Dr. Sakena Yacoobi `77 `07 is an award-winning social innovator and founder/director of the Afghan Institute for Learning (AIL)

Dr. Sakena Yacoobi ’77, ‘07 has devoted her life to helping people in her home country of Afghanistan, but her inspiration to do this work came while she was at University of the Pacific.

“Pacific helped plant the seeds for me to become a social worker and do the work that I do,” explained Yacoobi. “The support and examples set for me by my professors and peers inspired me to devote my career to helping others.”

Yacoobi, founder and director of the Afghan Institute for Learning (AIL), explained how Pacific inspired her to return home and work with Afghan women and children during her hour-long talk on Oct. 21 as part of the Pacific Alumni Association’s Leading Voices speaker series.

“During my time at Pacific, it became my second home,” said Yacoobi. “But, even from there, I heard the cry of women and children in Afghanistan, which inspired me to go back home to help my people.” 

Yacoobi founded the (AIL) in 1995 as a way to provide training, education and health care to Afghans, with a particular focus on women and children. Her institute has become internationally recognized for improving the health and education of Afghan women and children, and has helped 12 million Afghans through schools, learning centers and medical clinics.

“If you really want to help Afghan refugees you need to not only educate them, but also establish a relationship with them to build trust and be a mentor,” said Yacoobi. “The students we work with have suffered many traumatic experiences, so it is important they feel a close, personal relationship with our teachers much like the relationships I built with my professors at Pacific.”

In 2005, Yacoobi was awarded the Democracy Award from the National Endowment for Democracy and was among the 1,000 women nominated to jointly receive the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. In 2007, Pacific awarded her an honorary doctorate for her work in Afghanistan and in 2013, she won the prestigious Opus Prize, an award that “honors unsung heroes of any faith tradition with a $1 million award for efforts to solve today’s most persistent and pressing global issues, including poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease, and injustice.”

Watch Yacoobi's talk on the Pacific Alumni Association's Leading Voices speaker page