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Yohannes Gebregeorgis - Inspirational & Motivational Stories

Yohannes Gebregeorgis - From 'Love Kitten' to child literacy

At the age of 19, Yohannes Gebregeorgis's life changed after borrowing a romance novel "Love Kitten". Born in rural Ethiopia in the town of Negelle Borena to an illiterate cattle merchant, Yohannes's father could understand just a few words while his mother could not read at all. His father’s endeavor was to give his son a good education, which for Yohannes did not come easy. Yohannes sought political asylum in the United States due to the political unrest created by the ruling military dictatorship of Ethiopia, the Derg. Once there he pursued his education; a B.A. degree and a Masters of Library Science from the University of Texas. His first job came in the form of an offer from the San Francisco Public Library as a children's librarian. Yohannes was responsible for collecting foreign language books at the Library for the children's collection he realized there was not a single book in his native language of Ethiopia; Amharic.  It was here that he realized what the native children back home were missing. This motivated him to find some books in the language but he could not. This led to a decision to write the book Silly Mammo, a traditional Ethiopian folktale in Amharic as well as an English translation. Later he met a children's author named Jane Kurtz who lived much of her childhood in Ethiopia. She helped him get the book published and later on, took the proceeds to raise money for a literacy campaign for Ethiopian children.

At the age of 56, Gebregeorgis is now establishing libraries and literacy programs to connect Ethiopian children with books today. Books had definitely changed his life for the better and he wanted to pass this gift on to children who have never had the chance for an education.  Working at the Library introduced him to various childrens books such as  "The Little Engine That Could," "Captain Ahab" and "Peter Pan." The impact of these books on a child's sense of wonder and vision was tremendous he thought. It was then in 1998, that Ethiopia Reads was born; a program dedicated to fostering literacy in Ethiopia. With this vision in mind, Gebregeorgis quit his job in 2002 and headed back home to Ethiopia. But this time with 15,000 books donated by the San Francisco Children's Library. With them, he opened the Shola Children's Library on the first floor of his Addis Ababa home. Children could imagine everything from books -- connections to other cultures, to other people, to other children, and to the universe at large," recalls Gebregeorgis. "It gives them hope. It gives them pleasure. It gives them everything that they cannot otherwise get in regular textbooks." "I just wanted to come back to Ethiopia and help children have a future, have hope," says Gebregeorgis. In addition to the original library set by up Ethiopian reads, the organization established the Awassa Reading Center and Ethiopia's first Donkey Mobile Library. The latter was inspired by a concept he had seen in Zimbabwe where a customized donkey-pulled trailer-cart would make its weekly rounds to rural around Awassa. In 2007, the foundation  has been able to offer nearly 94,000 children access to its libraries in Addis Ababa, Awassa and on the Ethiopian countryside. Today, Shola Children's Library records an average of 60,000 visits per year. They plan expand their initiative further by opening libraries in public schools across Addis Ababa and Awassa.  Ethiopia Reads has published six bi-lingual story books for children. "With literate children there is no limit as to how much we can do."

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