- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2005

The contrast couldn’t have been more striking as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, looking chic in a bright pink suit, presented the prestigious National Endowment for Democracy award Wednesday to a quiet Afghan woman dressed all in black and pulling her head scarf close.

In the softly lighted room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, with Afghan Ambassador Said Tayeb Jawad and State Department Under Secretary for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky standing nearby, Sakena Yacoobi explained how her Afghan Institute for Learning has annually helped more than 350,000 women and children improve their literacy, vocational and micro-enterprise skills in war-torn Afghanistan and Pakistan during the past decade.

“Our women are blossoming,” Miss Yacoobi said. “Before they came to [us], many were so traumatized, abused and frightened they did not even speak.” Afterward, she noted, it was not unusual for her charges to run centers for as many as 800 students.

“Education is the key for democracy, and we are changing the life of Afghan women,” affirmed Miss Yacoobi, who was forced to go underground to continue training women during the Taliban era. “We are going to show the world that we are the winners.”

Sens. John McCain and Paul Sarbanes presented NED awards to two additional Afghan winners, Mohammad Nasib and Sarwar Hussaini, who, along with Miss Yacoobi, had met earlier in the day with President Bush. Their moving acceptance speeches won instant standing ovations.



Mr. Nasib is the managing director of the Welfare Association for Development of Afghanistan, whose work to improve civic education in rural areas always stresses how democracy is a system compatible with traditional Afghan values.

“After you are afraid for 25 to 30 years, you adapt,” Mr. Nasib said. “If you continue to be scared, the [enemies of democracy] are going to win.”

“At the beginning, there was little hope, no light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Hussaini said of his group of Afghan intellectuals who created the Cooperation Center for Afghanistan in 1990 to protect human rights, sovereignty and the integrity and historical values of Afghanistan.

It was Mr. Jawad who summed up the crucial importance of his brave countrymen’s work. “They have not only supported democracy in Afghanistan,” he said, “they are investing in global security for us all.”

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