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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.


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.

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.

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.


A Year in Review: The Segenat Children and Youth Library Accomplishments

Segenat Children and Youth Library

Amid the celebration of Ashenda one year ago, The Segenat Children and Youth Library was dedicated.  It is time to recap all of the major accomplishments and milestones that have occurred in this past year.


Ashenda is a traditional holiday that is filled with singing and dancing

Library Training

Prior to the opening of the library, The Segenat Children and Youth Library served as host for training for staff from the Segenat, and staff from the following school libraries:  Myliham, Debri, and Fre Sewat.  A host of international volunteers served as trainers including Athena Michael from John Wiley Publishers, Erin Meyer from the University of Denver, Dr. Maria Briones from Sharjah Higher College of Technology in the UAE, Janet Lee from Regis University in Denver, and Tewolde Tesfay from the University of Mekelle. 


Abeba discovers a sign language book that she can use at Debri Elementary

Tigray Reads! Tigray Blooms!

A brilliant lineup of librarians and educators came together to discuss children’s literature in Tigray. The panel organized by Ato Yohannes Gebregeorgis, was held as part of the Tigray Libraries and Literacy Development Project and was held prior to the opening of the Tigray Children’s Book Week.

The panel presentation served as an opportunity for members of the community to be heard as well as to receive information. A common theme among the presenters and the audience, over 100 in attendance, was the importance of literature and reading materials in the mother tongue. Presenters and audience members alike shared personal stories of reading experiences that they had in childhood providing anecdotal evidence to prescribed theories.

There were many noted authors in the audience as well as students from Mekelle University. The panel discussion was a great kick off to Tigray Children’s Book Week and panelists and audience members anticipate more follow up discussions in the future.

Tigray Reads

Distinguished panelists for Children's Book Week

The Library Dedication

The library dedication was a grand affair. Over 400 men, women, and children attended the inauguration and dedication of the Segenat Children and Youth Library. Among the noted dignitaries were Rwandan Ambassador to Ethiopia, Professor Joseph Nsengimana; Ato Abraha Kiros, Special Education Advisor to the President of the Regional Government of Tigray; Dr. Solomon Inqui, retired statesman and author; and Ato Teklawoyni from the office of the City of Mekelle.

Also among the audience were current Peace Corps Volunteers, Nick Strnad, Shelley McCreery, and Danielle Hoekwater as well as an additional seven or more volunteers, primarily from the northern region. The Peace Corps office in Addis Ababa also sent a contingent of administrators to the dedication as well.

Ato Yohannes announced that Dr. Solomon Inqui has been named the patron of the Segenat library for all of his past work in government and education. He has been an outstanding role model for all of the children who utilize the library and a dedicated supporter throughout the year. 

Each member of the audience received a copy of “Tirhas Celebrates Ashenda,” paid for by the Cherry Creek Rotary in memory of Dr. Thomas Hooyman, a colleague from Regis University in Denver.   Barbara Baker, sister of Dr. Thomas Hooyman, has been an ardent supporter of this project.  None of this could have happened without her support and the Dr. Thomas Hooyman Youth Reader Center is fitting tribute to her brother.

Dr. Tom

Dr. Thomas Hooyman Youth Reading Center

Distribution of “Tirhas Celebrates Ashenda.”

All of the Ashenda girls who came to the library received a free copy of “Tirhas Celebrates Ashenda.” Word traveled fast and group after group came to receive this very beautiful books. Over 3,000 copies of this book were distributed.

Ashenda team from Debri

The Debri Ashenda girls come to pick up their copies of "Tirhas Celebrates Ashenda"

Daily Operations

The first day that the library was officially opened, 104 children registered: 38 girls and 66 boys. This was actually a high number of girls when one considers the distractions that the girls had with the Ashenda festival. The children initially seemed to favor the reading nook, but soon spread themselves throughout the library. The Tigrigna collection was heavily used.

Reading Nook

Three star readers enjoy the reading nook.

Amazing Press Coverage 

Leonard Kniffel, editor of American Libraries, stated that the Segenat library was a “phenomenal accomplishment bearing in mind the obstacles that have to be overcome. This is the latest of Yohannes’ achievements in Ethiopia and evidence of the kind of dedication and vision that few other people have.”   http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/news/08232010/new-youth-library-ethiopia-makes-impossible-dream-reality

Upon the recommendation of her son, an Ethiopian TV reporter produced a special on the Segenat Children and Youth Library.  The 30 minute program was aired nationwide and garnered much attention.  The Saturday following the broadcast the Segenat received 760 children and the following Saturday saw over 1,000.

Ethiopian TV produced a segment on the Segenat Library

Zeroroah Elementary School

The Segenat provided 450 books to Zeroroah Elementary School in rural Tigray Region.  Zeroroah is a project of the Enderta Regional Development Association, a U.S. regional organization.  Its latest project was to replace a traditional “Das” school with a solid cinder block structure.  The transformation was amazing and will have a great impact on the education of the children in this very rural area of Ethiopia.  The Segenat Children and Youth Library was very pleased to be able to contribute in this very small way.

The Segenat Library donated a small collection of books to Zeroroah Elemenatry School Library

Kedamay Weyane Children and Youth Library in Adi Gudom

Ato Yohannes is working with the town of Adi Gudom in establishing the Kedamay Weyane Children and Youth Library.  A significant fundraising drive was conducted by the citizens for the purposes of improved health care facilities, transportation, and for the library.  City officials have provided a building and will staff the new library.  The Segenat provided 8000+ books and furniture worth 90,000 Birr.  Peace Corps Volunteer Bryan Cramer has written a successful grant that will assist with providing computers and other essentials.

Future Children and Youth Library at Adi Gudom

Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Conference

A very successful seminar and workshop on “Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators” was held in Addis Ababa on May 17th and 18th and in Mekelle on May 20th.   The purpose of the seminar was to bring children’s writers and illustrators from different parts of the world together, to illuminate the different traditions and ways of working, as well as to inspire and learn from each other. 

Invited speakers for the seminars were:

Helena Willis:  illustrator (Sweden)

John Kilaka:  illustrator and story teller (Tanzania)

Petrus Dahlin:  writer (Sweden)

Yohannes Gebregeorgis: writer, publisher, librarian (Ethiopia)

Samrawit Araya: writer (Ethiopia)

Matilda Wallin: librarian (Sweden)

  The seminar was a collaboration between The International Library (Sweden), Bokspindeln (Sweden) and Sololia Publishing/Tigray Libraries and Literacy Development Project (Ethiopia) with funding from The Swedish Institute.  Participants in Mekelle had an opportunity to visit the highly acclaimed Segenat Children and Youth Library and sung its praises. 

 Dr. Solomon Inquai: Library Patron

 Dr. Solomon Inquai, Patron of the Segenat Children and Youth Library celebrated his 80th birthday at a public ceremony held at the Milano Hotel. Dr. Solomon is a prominent Ethiopian educator, statesman, and writer.  Dr Solomon has recently published a biography of 14 Jeganu (heroes) of the revolutionary struggle.  It was announced during the 80th anniversary celebration that a foundation will be established in his honor, a foundation that would support young writers in publishing their work, a cause that Dr. Solomon has supported enthusiastically with time and personal finances.

Ato Yohannes receives honors

 Ato Yohannes has also received several honors this past year.  Out of 125,000 alumni from graduate programs at the University of Texas at Austin, Yohannes Gebregeorgis was selected as one of one hundred alumni profiled in UT’s “Changing the World: Stories Celebrating 100 years of Graduate Education at the University of Texas at Austin.” As the fifth person profiled in this title, Yohannes was joined by fellow librarian and First Lady Laura Bush; acclaimed novelist and Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee; former Colorado Governor Bill Owens; and former Secretary of State James Baker.

 Ato Yohannes was presented with Honorary Membership to the American Library Association at its annual conference in New Orleans in June.   Honorary Membership is considered to be ALA’s highest honor that can be bestowed on an individual.  Honorary membership may be conferred on a living citizen of any country whose contribution to librarianship or a closely related field is so outstanding that it is of lasting importance to the advancement of the whole field of library service.   This great honor was given in recognition for his work in establishing children’s libraries in Ethiopia and publishing bilingual and trilingual children’s books, thereby providing the children an opportunity to learn the love of reading, and increasing literacy in an entire nation.  

Yohannes Gebregeorgis receives Honorary Membership to the American Library Association

 Speaking Engagements

 Yohannes Gebregeorgis was the closing speaker for the 8th Thessaloniki International Book Fair in Thessaloniki, Greece, which was held May 5 – 8, 2011.  This international conference focused on “Books and Education:  What Needs to Change.” The event was co-sponsored by National Book Centre of Greece (ΕΚΕΒΙ), Ministry of Culture, HELEXPO and the Panhellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers (PΟΕΒ) is billed as a “top-ranking event of commercial and cultural charcter for the sector of publishers, creators and book lovers.”   Yohannes was one of twelve prominent writers and intellectuals from nine countries  including:  Tariq Ali (Pakistan-UK), Salwa Al Neimi (Syria), Gamal Ghitany (Egypt), David Grossman (Israel), Tuna Kiremitci (Turkey), Hoda Barakat (Lebanon), Sophie Bessie (Tunisia), Boualem Sansal (Algeria), Malek Chebel (Algeria), Bahaa Taher (Egypt) and Subhi Hadidi (Syria).

He also spoke at the Bok & Bibliotek: Goteborg Book Fair in Goteborg Sweden in September 2010.  He spoke about the many challenges facing children’s authors and publishers in Africa. 

 In conjunction with his award of the Honorary Membership to ALA, Yohannes  presented at the Dr. Martin Luther King branch of the New Orleans Public Library, June 2011.

Yohannes Gebregeorgis accepts Honorary Membership to the American Library Association

Honorary Membership 3

American Library Association President, Roberta Stevens presents Yohannes Gebregeorgis with a plaque naming him an Honorary Member of the American Library Association, the highest award that ALA bestows on an individual.

Yohannes Gebregeorgis, Founder of the Segenat Foundation, accepted Honorary Membership to the American Library Association in New Orleans during the opening session of the ALA annual conference on June 24, 2011.  Honorary Membership is the highest award bestowed by ALA on an individual.

In 2008, Ato Yohannes was named a TOP 10 CNN Hero for his work in bringing libraries and literacy to his native Ethiopia.  Throughout his career, Ato Yohannes has overseen the establishment of over 40 school library partnerships, three free-standing children’s libraries and seven donkey mobile libraries.

He received the Presidential Citation for International Innovation in 2008 from ALA President–and his former professor, Dr. Loriene Roy, and was invited by ALA President Dr. Camila Alire to present the Presidental Keynote in Boston in 2010.  Later that same year, he was honored with an Honorary Doctorate in Public Service at Regis University, in Denver, Colorado.  And most recently, he was featured in “Changing the World: Stories Celebrating 100 Years of Graduate Education at the University of Texas at Austin,” published by the University of Texas Press.

In recent years, Ato Yohannes established the Tigray Library and Literacy Development Project, under which he set up the Segenat Children and Youth Library in Mekelle, Ethiopia. This gained the attention of American Libraries editor, Leonard Kniffel, who wrote about his work in an article:


In addition to his beloved book, “Silly Mammo,” Ato Yohannes has written a new children’s book, “Tirhas Celebrates Ashenda: An Ethiopian Girl’s Festival.”  Over 3,000 copies of this book were distributed during the Ashenda Celebration, which coincided with the dedication of the Segenat Library in August 2010.  “Tirhas Celebrates Ashenda” was dedicated in memory of Dr. Thomas Hooyman, a professor at Regis University, and funded by the Cherry Creek Rotary in Denver, CO, where Dr. Hooyman had served as president. 

Honorary Membership

American Librarian Association President, Roberta Stevens welcomes Yohannes Gebregeorgis during the opening session of the ALA annual conference in New Orleans

Honorary Membership

Yohannes Gebregeorgis receives Honorary Membership to the American Library Association.

Honorary Membership 4

American Library Association President, Roberta Stevens presents Yohannes Gebregeorgis with a plaque naming him an Honorary Member of the American Library Association, the highest award that ALA bestows on an individual.


Ato Yohannes spoke at the Dr. Martin Luther King Branch Library in New Orleans.

Dr. Martin Luther King Library

Ato Yohannes Gebregeorgis views the Dr. Martin Luther King mural at the Dr. King branch library of the New Orleans Public Library

Ato Yohannes Gebregeorgis spoke at the Dr. Martin Luther King Branch Library in New Orleans on Friday June 28, 2011. He was in New Orleans to receive Honorary Membership to ALA, the highest award that ALA bestows on an individual.

For more photos of the event, check out the ALA site at: http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/al_focus/photos/ala-honorary-member-visits-new-orleans