• JustGiving URL

  • Archives

  • Catagories

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 15 other subscribers

Yohannes Gebregeorgis may he rest in Peace

It is with a heavy heart that we inform the world that Yohannes Gebregeorgis passed away in Addis Ababa on January 18, 2022 due to illness.

Born in rural Ethiopia, Yohannes had little access to books in the classroom or in the home, but became an avid reader at the age of 19 when he came upon a romance novel.  It changed his life.

He fled Ethiopia as a political refugee in 1981 and put himself through school. His newfound love for books and reading led him to complete a BA in English Literature and Journalism from the University of Buffalo in 1989.  After obtaining a Masters degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Texas, Austin in 1991, he thought he would become an academic librarian.  As fate would have it, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become a children’s librarian at the prestigious San Francisco Public Library afforded him an opportunity to share his passion for reading with children.

While reading books to children during story time, he thought of the children in Ethiopia who had none.  It was at this time, that he wrote, “Silly Mamo” based on an Ethiopian folktale.  Proceeds from the book and discarded books from the San Francisco Public Library, allowed him to return to Ethiopia in 2002 to set up a library in Ethiopia.

He went up to set up many libraries throughout Ethiopia, including the Segenat Children’s and Youth Library in Mekelle, a school library at Fre Sewat elementary school, a library at Myliham Elementary as well as in the small village of Debri. A Donkey Mobile Library was stationed at Sefra Jeganu, the Heroes’ Residence, a family unit for disabled members of the resistance movement.

In addition, to “Silly Mamo,”  he also published “Tirhas Celebrates Ashenda,” illustrated by Rahel Blutts and translated into Tigrigna by Girmay Gebru, after experiencing an Ashenda celebration in Mekelle.  He also published “Under the Tamarind Tree,” a story based on his own childhood in Negelle Borana. 

He is the recipient of many awards, most notably, being named a CNN Hero in 2008 and selected to be one of the “top ten” nominees.

In 2003, “Silly Mamo’ was the recipient of the Children’s Africana Book Awards (CABA), which is presented annually to the authors and illustrators of the best children’s and young adult books on Africa published or republished in the US.

In July 2008, he received the Presidential Citation for International Innovation from the American Library Association. 

He delivered the keynote presentation, “Literacy in Ethiopia, the Key to Development and Informed Citizenship” for the President’s Program at the American Library Association 2010 Midwinter Meeting,

In May 2010, He received an Honorary Doctorate in Public Service, at Regis University, Denver, Colorado.

He was among 100 Honored Alumnae, University of Texas at Austin, “Changing the World: Stories Celebrating 100 years of Graduate Education at the University of Texas at Austin.”  November 2010.

Yohannes was elected to honorary membership in the American Library Association (ALA).  Honorary Membership, ALA’s highest honor, is conferred in recognition of outstanding contributions of lasting importance to libraries and librarianship. He received an honorary membership plaque in June 2011 during the Opening General Session of the ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans.

He was also honored by the Society of Ethiopians Established in Diaspora for his work in Developing libraries and literacy in Ethiopia.  The award dinner was held at the Georgetown Hotel and Conference Center in Washington D.C. on May 24, 2015. 

In 2012, he founded the Segenat Foundation, named after the Children and Youth Library he established in Mekelle to advance his work in children’s book publishing and literacy.  http://segenatfoundation.org 

We ask the community to reflect on how Yohannes has impacted their lives and to keep his sons in their thoughts and prayers.



Yohannes Gebregeorgis to be honored at the 23rd Annual SEED Awards Dinner, Sunday May 24th, 2015

Yohannes Gebregeorgis will be honored on Sunday, May 24th, 2015 by the Society of Ethiopians Established in Diaspora, for his work in developing libraries and literacy in Ethiopia.  The award dinner will be held at the Georgetown Hotel & Conference Center in Washington D.C.

Flyer is attached.SEED 2015 Final Flyer as of 3_27_15-2

Catch a Falling Star: Poster Session at the American Library Association Annual Conference

Pocket Library Poster Session

Catch a Falling Star: Pocket Library poster session at the American Library Association

Doris Gebel, President of the United States Board on Books for Young People, joined Segenat Foundation Board Members Janet Lee and Jane Mirandette, in presenting a poster session during the International Relations Roundtable (IRRT) session at the American Library Association annual conference in Anaheim in June.

Doris Gebel, President, US Board on Books for Young People

The poster featured photos of children reading at the Segenat Children and Youth Library in Mekelle.  It also featured photos of the workshop given by Anne Pellowski, International Board on Books for Young People, during her visit to Mekelle in October 2011.  Pellowski, a renowned author of books on children’s literature and reading techniques, presented two workshops at the Segenat on producing cloth books in first languages.  She has traveled extensively throughout the world presenting workshops on this topic.

A bilingual cloth book (Amharic and English) that was digitized and displayed on an IPad.

Included in the display were bilingual cloth books written in Amharic and English, Amharic being one of the primary languages of Ethiopia.  The cloth books were scanned and printed for increased distribution.  The cloth books also display beautifully on an iPad.

The poster session was named, “Catch a Falling Star and Put it in Your Pocket,” a popular children’s song, as a way of promoting the newly created Pocket Libraries, another of Pellowski’s creative ideas.  Pocket Libraries are easily transportable and can be assigned to neighborhood leaders for use in story times.  Each pocket library can hold up to 100 children’s books, first language materials preferred.

A brightly decorated pocket library hung in the display.  Another type of pocket library, more aptly described as a sling, bore the first line of the Amharic alphabet.  Gebel, and a group of high school home economics students, have sewn a large batch of pocket libraries to be shipped to Ethiopia to serve as models for further production.

Each Pocket Library can hold up to 100 bilingual or first language children’s books.

Poster sessions such as these, allow the presenters to directly interact with the audience, and present a more hand on approach in demonstrating items such as the cloth books, pocket libraries, and brochures.

Doris Gebel with Segenat Foundation Board Member, Jane Mirandette

The Poster Session was well attended by librarians and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers from around the world interested in adopting these ideas for future projects.

Janet Lee, Segenat Foundation Board Member, speaks to Henry Mendelsohn, Regional Information Office at the US Embassy in Nairobi.

Yohannes Gebregeorgis to join the Faculty of Mekelle University

Yohannes Gebregeorgis, Founder of the Segenat Foundation (http://segenatfoundation.org), a not for profit organization that works in establishing libraries and promoting reading and literacy in Ethiopia, has joined the faculty at Mekelle University (Ethiopia) with the Department of Library and Information Science.

Mekelle University, located in the city of Mekelle in Tigray Region, is a top-rated university for teaching and research and is one of the fastest growing universities in Ethiopia.

The Department of Library and Information Science at Mekelle University is a young department in its early growth stage with great potential to make a difference in teaching and research in library and information science.

In 2008, Yohannes Gebregeorgis was named a Top 10 CNN Hero for his innovative work in providing libraries and literacy to children in Ethiopia. He was awarded Honorary Membership to the American Library Association in 2011, the highest award the American Library Association bestows on an individual. He is the author of two bilingual children’s books: Silly Mammo and Tirhas Celebrates Ashenda.

Segenat Foundation to become part of the Beyond Access Initiative

We are very pleased to announce that the Segenat Foundation has been chosen to be among the first members to Beyond Access as has been announced on its website:   http://www.beyondaccess.net/2012/04/10/library-innovators-from-serbia-kenya-ethiopia-uganda-and-venezuela-become-beyond-access-members/

Beyond Access is an initiative of IREX, EIFL, IFLA, Makaia, Civic Regeneration, TASCHA, the Riecken Foundation, and READ Global, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Membership to Beyond Access is intended for public library innovators in developing and transitioning countries who are interested in participating in an initiative to showcase how libraries are contributing to development goals and learning from other leaders in the field. Membership is granted for those who have demonstrated successful partnerships with governments and development organizations in meeting community needs in education, health, agriculture, economic opportunity, and civic participation.

Beyond Access Members will:

• attend the Beyond Access 2012 Conference in Washington, DC in October 2012 along with a regional or national government partner

• be eligible for grants competitions at and after the Conference to support scaling initiatives and strengthening partnerships with government

• participate in a series of discussions and events leading up to the Conference

• receive support and expertise in expanding partnerships with governments, development organizations and other community stakeholders.

Please see the Beyond Access profile of the Segenat Foundation:  http://www.beyondaccess.net/2012/05/09/the-segenat-foundation/

Cloth Pocket Libraries Have Arrived

Our first pocket library in use at Fre Sewat Elementary School

Our first cloth Pocket Library has arrived in Ethiopia.  We decided to test drive it at one of our favorite schools:  Fre Sewat, the site of the Dr. Thomas Hooyman Memorial Library and Media Center.   It was an immediate success.  We were soon surrounded by hundreds of children who clamored to read and to have books read to them.  The teachers appreciated the mobility of the Pocket Library.  Books could be transported from the library to the individual classrooms.  The colorful design excited the children and encouraged more reading.
We were introduced to the concept of the Pocket Libraries by our friend Anne Pellowsi from the International Board on Books for Young People.  Anne visited the Segenat Children and Youth Library last October to demonstrate the concept of producing cloth books in local languages.  Cloth is an ideal medium for making one of a kind books in local languages since cloth is easily available and does not require any specialized equipment.
The United States Board on Books for Young People has volunteered to produce additional Pocket Libraries and these will be shipped to the US later in the month.  These will easily be replicated by our fine tailors, here in Mekelle.  The Pocket Libraries will be filled with locally-produced books and distributed to leaders in neighborhoods and in rural areas.  They can be hung on a wall, in a classroom, or as demonstrated here, outdoors on a tree.   It appears that they are definitely a hit!

Many children gather around to find a book from the cloth pocket library.

Hundreds of children surround the pocket library at Fre Sewat Elementary.

Older students enjoy reading to the younger children.

Cloth Pocket Libraries: A Simple Idea that is Right for Ethiopian Children

Our volunteers in Ethiopia and in the U.S. have been hard at work:  sewing, writing, publishing.  Based on the very successful cloth book workshop conducted at the Segenat Children and Youth Library by Anne Pelowski, International Board on Books for Young People, we have two books at the printer crafted by local authors. These books were fully funded by generous donors.  That enthusiasm has spread across the ocean where quilters with the US Board on Books for Young People have made great progress in crafting pocket libraries.  These pocket libraries will hold approximately 30 locally-produced books that will be loaned to designated neighborhood leaders in city of Mekelle and beyond.  We know how important it is for young children to be able to read stories in their mother tongue.  It is the foundation for later learning as they progress through school and become the leaders of the future.

For those librarians among the readership, please stop by the poster session at the American Library Association conference in Anaheim, CA co-sponsored by the Segenat Foundation and USBBY.  There you will get to see examples of finely crafted cloth books, print copies of these books, and pocket libraries.

My First Counting Book

My First Counting Book: a bilingual number book in English and Amharic.

Hanging Pocket Library

This hanging pocket library will hold up to 30 bilingual children's books to be used by neighborhood leaders for weekly story time.

Cloth Pocket Library

This simple to transport pocket library will hold up to 30 bilingual children's books.


Cloth pocket library

A simple cloth pocket library filled with local language materials ready for use.





A Trip to the Segenat Children and Youth Library (Summer 2011)

The Segenat Children and Youth Library has received many volunteers and visitors since it opened over a year ago.  The experience affects them in many profound ways and they frequently tell their friends and colleagues, continue with fundraising efforts, dream of ways in which they can return.  We have just received a blog that was posted shortly after a visit to the Segenat this past summer.  We love to hear from our visitors and volunteers!

–Segenat Library

A Trip to the Segenat Children and Youth Library (Summer 2011)

by Tiffany Jones.

I was able to drop off 49 new books plus one homemade one to the Segenat Library. These were donations from the kids at Goodwin.

On Saturday, another volunteer and I decided to take all but the two youngest full time children with us to the library for the puppet show. (1-10 year old, 2-6 year olds, 2-five year olds, 2 almost 2 year olds and her 2 1/2 year old son).

Even the short walk there was an adventure.

Unfortunately for some reason the puppet show was a no-go, but it was almost better. I loved seeing them experience the library.

We kept most of the kids contained in Janet’s Reading Nook. Our biggest guy found the Tigrigna books and started reading.

The kids picked board books, picture books and puzzle books and went to town. Once they got the concept, they were hooked!! It was especially fun to see how our bitty ones loved being read to and looking at books. There is one little girl who is pretty new and this was the first genuine smile and animation I’ve seen. Other children joined the two crazy Ferengi women in the nook and several staff and children just stood outside of it and watched us. I don’t think they’ve probably ever had seen such a mix of small children there together. After about an hour and 15 minutes, we helped our children clean up and had to practically drag a couple with selective hearing out of there.. .


Tiffany Jones at the Segenat Children and Youth Library

Tiffany Jones at the Segenat Children and Youth Library

Students in Simret Merha Tibeb Academy Mekelle Celebrate Ethiopian Nation and Nationalities Day

by Girmay Gebru
Journalist for the Voice of America

Students from Simret Merha Tibeb Academy present for Ethiopian Nation and Nationalities Day

Students from Simret Merha Tibeb Academy celebrated Ethiopian Nation and Nationalities Day at its eve in their school compound. The students dressed in traditional attire, colorfully representing the different ethnics groups of Ethiopia.

During the celebration, the students presented an anthem called “Our Diversity is Our Beauty” and it was respectfully received by the audience. The anthem is well known throughout Ethiopia having often been presented on mainstream media.

The children were well prepared for their presentation through dedicated training and rehearsals prior to the celebration provided by their teachers and school administration.

On the eve of the National Day of Nation and Nationalities of Ethiopia, the students presented different shows that made the day more joyful. They presented poems, traditional songs, martial arts and exhibitions that expressed the walks of life of many different Ethiopian ethnicities.
W/ro Feven Mengisteab, managing director of the Simret Merha Tibeb Academy and the school teachers together with the students broke ‘Hambasha’ the Tigriyan bread in honor of the day.

Parents and guests throughout the community and local government officials were among the audience.
Simret Merha Tibeb Academy is a well-respected private school in Tigray region.


]Hidar 29, 2004 (December 9, 2011) was a day of joy and celebration as representatives of about 80 nations, nationalities and people converged  on to the city of Mekelle, a city dubbed “Star of the North” to celebrate their diverse cultures and to forge unity of all Ethiopian people.

Throngs of people in the Tigray Region welcomed the Nations and Nationalities to every town and village with flowers and dances of joy as the convoy of buses that carried the Nations and Nationalities’ representatives passed through.

In the City of Mekelle, home of the Segenat Children and Youth Library and Headquarters  of the Segenat Foundation,  thousands of people lined up to welcome the representatives of the Nations and Nationalities who poured into all major streets two days before the day of celebration. On Hidar 29 (December 9) the new and yet unfinished Mekelle Stadium was flooded over by hundreds of thousands of Mekelle citizens, men and women, young and old to watch the parade of Nations and Nationalities.

I was one of those people who witnessed this historic and monumental occasion that celebrates Ethiopia’s Nations and Nationalities.  This is by far the pinnacle of many achievements of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to ensure the unity and solidarity of all Ethiopian people. I was born and raised amongst oppressed and subjugated nations and nationalities in the past. Ethiopia was called “the prison house of nations” and to see with my own eyes and to witness firsthand, the freedom of all Ethiopians to speak their own language, and to develop their own cultural heritage and take part in building their nation in all aspects of their lives is something to celebrate and to be proud.  Tigrayans of all walks of life displayed their greatest joy and affection to all the Nations and Nationalities. Some were in tears of joy to see their fellow Ethiopians for the first time.

“Our Diversity is our Beauty” said one banner.  Ethiopians are truly the most beautiful people on earth. The most beautiful thing of all is, however, that Ethiopians are united more than any time in their long history to forge ahead hand in hand into the future – a future of hope, peace and development.

Yohannes Gebregeorgis

Founder, Segenat Foundation