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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

Segenat Foundation Sponsors Puppetry Workshop at Atse Yohannes Elemenatry School in Mekelle

The Segenat Foundation welcomed Workneh Bezu, an accomplished artist and co-owner of the Habesha Art Studio and Gallery (http://www.habeshaartstudio.com) , to conduct a puppet workshop at the Atse Yohannes Elementary School.  Workneh instructed 26 fourth and fifth grade students and teachers in the art of puppet making and basic puppetry, an art form that has not yet come into its own in Ethiopia.  A master puppeteer himself, Workneh pulled puppet after puppet out of a large suitcase and encouraged the students to try on the puppet masks and act out various story plots themselves.  The students also had an opportunity to learn the basics of design by drawing outlines and coloring them before making the actual puppets.   This was a thrilling learning experience for student and teacher alike.  The students begged that he return to their school at a later date for an extended school-wide set of workshops.  The students were quite in awe of both the artist and the art form and hope to take this new found knowledge to new heights.

Workneh is an excellent illustrator and has collaborated with other artists in creating short animated films that have been shown in theatres in Addis Ababa. Workneh was in Mekelle for Ethiopian Cities Week.  The Segenat Foundation, founded by Yohannes Gebregeorgis, (http://segenatfoundation.org) is pleased to introduce different forms of art and literacy to school children.  The Segenat Foundation looks forward to further collaboration with Workneh.

Students at Atse Yohannes take notes on puppetry workshop conducted by Workneh Bezu.

Artist and puppeteer, Workneh Bezu, describes the basics of puppetry and design to the students at Atse Yohannes Elementary School. The workshop was sponsored by the Segenat Foundation

A puppeteer in the making models one of the puppets at Atse Yohannes Elementary School.

A workshop on puppetry was conducted by Workneh Bezu and was sponsored by the Segenat Foundation.

Students at Atse Yohannes Elementary School in Mekelle welcomed the opportunity to learn about puppets and puppetry.

Students at Atse Yohannes Elementary School in Mekelle welcomed the opportunity to learn about puppets and puppetry.

Funding Received to Publish IBBY Cloth Book.

In October noted storyteller, Anne Pellowsi, representing the International Board on Books for Young People, conducted a workshop on creating simple cloth books in local languages at the Segenat Children and Youth Library.  At the end of the workshop, the participants chose two of the finest cloth books produced by the participants.  We are very pleased to announce that a very generous donor has come forth and has covered the costs of creating a digital image and printing of one of the two selected books.  The title chosen is by artist and business woman, Peniel Gideon.   Congratulations, Peniel.

Peniel Gideon works on her prize winning book.

Noted Storyteller, Anne Pellowski, Conducts Workshop at the Segenat Library

Her preference is to work in areas of the world that have not been paid much attention, preferably outside of the capital city.  This need to serve an unserved population brought Anne Pellowski to the Segenat Children and Youth Library in Mekelle, Ethiopia in October to conduct two workshops on creating simple cloth books in local languages.  Ms. Pellowski, a former member of the Executive Committee of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) and active for more than 50 years in the work of IBBY, sent Yohannes Gebregeorgis a simple and understated letter of inquiry offering her services.  “I have read with interest your efforts to bring books to Ethiopia’s children. I would like to offer my services to do a workshop in Ethiopia, for the purpose of making picture books in your local languages there.”

Knowing the importance of introducing first language materials early to very young children, Yohannes jumped at the opportunity.  What a chance for aspiring authors, illustrators, teachers, and librarians to be introduced to a simple, inexpensive method for sharing reading in the local language!   Typically, Ms. Pellowski offers two workshops back to back within a five-day period.  Yohannes  pulled together faculty from nearby Mekelle University, illustrators interested in expanding their skills, and both experienced and promising new authors.  Ms. Pellowski put them to the test and they rose to the challenge.  Each participant had an opportunity to create three cloth books:  a word book in Tigrigna and a second language (English or Amharic); a concept book such as a folk tale; and a third of his or her own design.  

The workshop stressed the importance of having colorful books in the home language of the children.  A secondary goal is that participants will share their newly acquired skills and lead further workshops of this type to others in the community.  These initial books are made of cloth because cloth is an easy medium in which to work and cloth is easily available in most communities.  At the end of this workshop, the participants chose two of the finest cloth books among the participants.  Funding has been promised to photograph these selections and turn them into printed books for further distribution to home, school, and community libraries.

Ms. Pellowski has written extensively on storytelling and is in fact a gifted storyteller.  Her list of writings include children’s stories as well as sourcebooks on publishing and storytelling. As a representative of IBBY, she travels to two or three countries each year to present these workshops to future authors and illustrators. 

Yohannes is not unfamiliar with the works of IBBY.  In 2009, Yohannes was a panelist for the 8th IBBY Regional Conference “Children’s Books: Where Worlds Meet” held in St. Charles, IL.   The workshop provided by Ms. Pellowski  continues this great relationship between IBBY and Yohannes with the likely possibility of collaboration in the future. 

The first group of participants jump into working on their cloth book assignments.

Cutting out storybook characters takes great precision.

Each page of the book is assembled by hand one by one.

The storybook characters are ironed onto the fabric using fusible web.

Illustrator and author work side by side on their storyline.

Participants from workshop one join Anne Pellowski.

Participants from workshop two join Anne Pellowski.

AAUW presentation at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington D.C..

 On Sunday, September 25, 2011, from 2 to 4:30 p.m., American Association of University Women of Virginia in partnership with the Tigray Development Association, presented a Fall International Program, Literacy: the Key to Development in Ethiopia at the Ethiopian Embassy. Open to all AAUW members and friends, this free program began with a warm welcome from the honorable Deputy Ambassador Tesfaye Yilma. Deputy Ambassador’s remarks focused on the importance of creating a continuing collaborative partnership with AAUW.

Next, Dr. Gebrewahid Woldu, Chairperson, TDA Board, provided information about the Tigray Development Association and its ongoing humanitarian efforts. Janet Lee, Librarian, Regis University, Denver, and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer/Ethiopia, engaged the audience in a special multi-media presentation on the Tigray Library and Literacy Development Project. This project was spearheaded by Yohannes Gebregeogis, a political refugee and trained librarian. Yohannes was named a Top 10 CNN Hero in 2008 for his work in bringing libraries and literacy to children in his native Ethiopia. (www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/archive/yohannes.gebregeorgis.html). In 2010, he established the Segenat Children and Youth Library in Mekelle, the first children’s library in the region of Tigray.

This flagship library was featured in American Libraries http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/news/08232010/new-youth-library-ethiopia-makes-impossible-dream-reality and caught the attention of members of the Virginia State Board. The program concluded with a video presentation on the cultural and historical aspects of Ethiopia along with a traditional coffee ceremony. To mark the first anniversary of the Segenat Children and Youth Library, cake was served along with traditional Ethiopian coffee.

This program provided AAUW members and friends an opportunity to make a voluntary contribution that will make a significant difference in library and literacy efforts for children in Ethiopia. 

Volunteers preparing for presentation at the Ethiopian Embassy in DC


Putting on the finishing touches of the 1st anniversary cake.


Preparations prior to the presentation.


From left to right: Janet Lee, Dr. Gebrewahid Woldu, Athena Michael, and Deputy Ambassador Tesfay Yilma.


Janet Lee and Deputy Ambassador Tesfaye Yilma cut anniversary cake.


Traditional Coffee Ceremony

One Year Later, the Trees as well as the Children Stretch to New Heights at the Segenat

Nearly two years ago the Mayor of the City of Mekelle approached Yohannes Gebregeorgis about the possibility of turning a vacated building into a children’s library.  Yohannes, Barbara Baker (who was visiting Mekelle for the dedication of the Dr. Thomas Hooyman Memorial Library in memory of her brother), three Peace Corps Volunteers (Shelley McCreery, Danielle Hoekwater, Nicholas Strnad) and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and librarian Janet Lee, inspected the building and imagined the possibilities.

One grand thought was to line the pathway leading up to the entrance of the library with indigenous trees similar to the trees that one sees when entering the city from the airport.  Regis University Librarian (Denver, Colorado), Jan Loechell Turner, heeded the call and funded the project of both purchase of the trees and their ongoing maintenance.

One does not normally think of planting a tree, providing a bench, or painting a mural when donating funds to build a library.  A library should be more than a warehouse for books.  It can be a refuge from the daily routines of a busy day: a place to read, to play chess or checkers or Scrabble, to participate in arts and crafts, or to read a book quietly under the shade of a tree.

Thank you Jan for your gift that will last a lifetime.

The attached photos demonstrate the growth of this precious gift of trees over the past year.  Like children, trees grow by leaps and bounds with just a little loving care.  Many thanks to Fitsum Behane, IT volunteer instructor, for providing these updated photos.

These beautiful trees, donated by Regis University Librarian Jan Lochell Turner, are delivered to the Segenat, summer 2010.


The trees are lined up, spaced apart, and ready for planting.


Three boys in front of a tree, summer 2010.


Lula Gebresellasie, a library regular, stands in front of a tree, November 2010.


Two girls in front of a tree, September 2011. My how they have grown. Photo by Fitsum Berhane.


The Meskal flowers are in full bloom. Photo by Fitsum Berhane.


This tree has grown nearly three times its height. Photo by Fitsum Berhane.