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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.

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