Angelina Jolie Supports Education of Afghan Girls with New Film

Angelina Jolie AfghanAn Oscar-winning actress and noted humanitarian, Angelina Jolie has recently agreed to become the executive producer of a new animated film titled The Breadwinner. Irish production company Cartoon Saloon is making the film, which is based on a novel of the same named by Canadian author Deborah Ellis. The Breadwinner tells the story of a young girl living in Afghanistan named Parvana. In the novel, Parvana’s father is unfairly imprisoned, so she must disguise herself as a boy to obtain employment and earn the money needed to continue supporting the family.

Jolie agreed to work on the film largely because of its subject matter. Having already supported a school for girls in Afghanistan, Jolie has learned firsthand how difficult life can be for young Afghan females. As the actress pointed out, millions of girls in Afghanistan today work very hard to support their families, who continue to struggle after decades of conflict. The Breadwinner tells their story and celebrates the amazing contributions that they make. The film will help to bring a great deal of attention to the reality of many young Afghan girls and has the potential to refocus many philanthropists on their needs. Jolie has pledged to donate all the money that she makes from the film to support girls’ education in Afghanistan.

Nora Twomey, an Irish animator, will direct the film. Through the project, she hopes to accurately reflect Afghan culture and society through the eyes of a little girl. The film is both a celebration of love and fidelity in Afghan families and a look at how gender has shaped opportunity in Afghanistan. Ukrainian-Canadian film director and screenwriter Anita Doron has agreed to transform the novel into a screenplay. Production on the film is set to begin shortly and the project will likely be finished in early 2017. The team behind The Breadwinner plans to release the film in both English and Dari, one of Afghanistan’s official languages.

Aid Afghanistan for Education Helps Afghan Women to Advance

More girls in Afghanistan than ever before are in school, yet a great deal of work remains to be done, especially in terms of changing the Afghan — and global — mindset about education for females. UNESCO estimates that 39 million school-age girls around the world are not enrolled in institutions of learning. Nearly 70 percent of illiterate adults are women and few countries have achieved gender equality in school enrollment.

Research has shown that education has universal economic benefits. Education drives both social and economic development, while improving the overall well-being of entire communities. Statistics show that an additional year of schooling has the power to increase a young woman’s earnings by 10 to 20 percent. As women begin to earn more, a nation becomes significantly more economically productive. The World Bank has collected data showing that investment in girls’ education reaps surprisingly high returns in terms of economic growth.

A country’s gross domestic product can increase by up to 1.5 percent through the expansion of educational opportunities for females. In addition, wealth disparities between classes start to dwindle and social development occurs as health care outcomes improve and women begin to contribute politically.

With an understanding of the benefits of education, especially among young women, Aid Afghanistan for Education has created a number of programs to jump-start the Afghan education system and empower young girls in the country. For nearly 15 years, the organization has provided educational opportunities for thousands of young people despite some hurdles.

Educational Programming Through Aid Afghanistan for Education

Aid Afghanistan for Education focuses its resources on creating high-quality educational programs for marginalized Afghans, both girls and boys. Many of these programs focus on the needs of females who were unable to attend school due to conflict, early marriage, or other restrictions, such as a law that prevented children older than 10 from enrolling in the first grade. When schools for girls were outlawed in Afghanistan, the organization created five underground institutions that provided education to hundreds of girls. Many of these girls went on to enter the regular school system when they were able to do so.

Since education has become a priority in Afghanistan, the organization has created 13 permanent schools in nine provinces. Over the years, these schools have provided education for more than 3,000 young females and more than 100 males. Through an arrangement with the Afghan Ministry of Education, these students have graduated from the organization’s schools with a high school diploma. The agreement allows students to continue in a university if they choose. The schools also offer seniors vocational training in accounting, office management, and other subjects to help them secure jobs after graduation.

With an understanding of the special needs of female students, the organization remains the only one with a program for women who live in safe houses because they have experienced abuse at the hands of their husbands or families. The opportunity allows them to finish high school and become financial independent. The organization’s schools have flexible timetables that can change according to the unique needs of the students. Education is offered year-round so that students can complete their entire degree in as little as eight years.

The Rural Livelihoods and Employment Program

Aid Afghanistan for Education maintains a strong commitment to rural education and seeks to identify and address issues that limit access to education in these areas. Throughout Afghanistan, poverty remains one of the most significant barriers to education. In order to address this problem, the organization has designed a Rural Livelihoods and Employment Program, which provides a family-centered solution to the poverty crisis. The program integrates with existing educational opportunities.

The unique program emphasizes literacy on a family-wide level and provides an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship and business development. Aid Afghanistan for Education aims to train families to become successful business owners with a six-month intensive experience. Families have the chance to work with a nationwide small business incubator that offers guidance on everything from microfinance to accounting. Depending on the enterprise that a particular family chooses, the organization may also offer vocational training so that individuals can gain the skills they need for success.

Creating a Clean Future for Education with the Prosperity Project

In 2003, Aid Afghanistan for Education teamed with the Afghan International Chambers of Commerce to create the Prosperity Project, which was designed to clean the city of Kabul in order to promote sanitation and health among Afghans living in the city. Cleanliness is an important foundation for education. The project began with a pilot in Quala-e-Fattullah, where a 16-foot pile of garbage had collected in front of an elementary school. Many of the children studying at the school have scars on their faces as a result of the mosquitoes that fed on the trash. Seven workers used two cars to remove the pile of garbage to a dump site outside of the city, which allowed the children to begin playing outside for recess once again.

The project also involved the distribution of compost boxes and nylon bags to houses in the surrounding neighborhood. Members of the organization spoke with families about the proper disposal of trash and sanitation. Altogether, 400 homes were visited and provided with a better means of trash disposal. The Ministry of Agriculture agreed to collect compost materials from these homes every four months for distribution in agricultural fields around the city.

Dr. Sakena Yacoobi and the Afghan Institute of Learning

Dr. Sakena Yacoobi and the Afghan Institute of LearningDr. Sakena Yacoobi and the Afghan Institute of Learning

Dr. Sakena Yacoobi and the Afghan Institute of Learning

Image by ResoluteSupportMedia / CC BY

The founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi has championed literacy, quality education, and health care by training 11 million people. Her institute has become one of the largest employers of women in Afghanistan. The Afghan Institute of Learning began offering education and health care services to individuals in refugee camps in the 1900s and quickly expanded to open a network of secret schools for 3,000 girls in Afghanistan. During this time, the organization trained 80 teachers to educate these young girls. When the secret schools closed in 2001, the institute began expanding by opening Learning Centers and clinics in communities around the country. Now, the organization provides health services to hundreds of thousands of Afghan people and education to tens of thousands.

Outside of her work with the institute, Dr. Yacoobi travels internationally to speak on women’s education and children’s health at a variety of conferences. She has presented before the Harvard University Central Eurasian Studies Society, the Warwick University One World Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative, the California Governor’s Conference on Women and Families, and many others. In addition, she spoke at the Brookings US-Islamic World Forum and the TEDWomen Conference in Monterey, California. In all of these talks, she draws listeners’ attentions to the urgent need to support women’s rights in Afghanistan, especially in terms of education and health care.

Dr. Yacoobi was born in Herat, Afghanistan, and traveled to the United States to study biology. After earning her master of public health, she returned to Afghanistan to teach as a professor at D’Etre University and to serve as a health consultant. These experiences fueled her to start the work that developed into the Afghan Institute of Learning.

In addition to her institute, Dr. Yacoobi created the Professor Sakena Yacoobi Private Hospital in Herat and two private high schools in Kabul and Herat. She is also the co-founder and vice president of Creating Hope International, a nonprofit based in Michigan.