Founder of Ethiopia Reads, a philanthropic organization committed to bringing literacy to Ethiopian children, Yohannes believes in education with imagination and creativity. That’s why he decided to ‘plant’ libraries in his home country. His work also focus on schools, young athlete education, mentorship and training and is now serving 120,000 children. He believes that quality schools, books and learning initiatives that engage both the creative and logical mind can lead to a more resourceful generation of leaders.
At age 19, Yohannes Gebregeorgis borrowed a soft-cover romance novel entitled “Love Kitten” that changed his life forever.
Born in rural Ethiopia to an illiterate cattle merchant who insisted upon his son’s education, Gebregeorgis had seen a few books in school. But it was the experience of having a book of his own that sparked a lifelong commitment of bringing literacy to the children of Ethiopia.
“I just wanted to come back to Ethiopia and help children have a future, have hope,” Yohannes Gebregeorgis says
After finishing his Masters in Library Science, he got a job at the San Francisco Public Library as a children’s librarian. He was appointed to collect foreign language books for the children’s collection and very soon he realized that the public library had books in more than 75 languages, but without a single copy in Amharic (official working language of Ethiopia), because of prohibitive publishing, purchasing and importing costs in his home country.
He started a search for books in Amharic but found none. A failed search made him realize what children of Ethiopia were missing.
Emboldened by this disappointment, he took it upon himself to write a book and crafted ‘Silly Mammo’, a traditional Ethiopian folk-tale in Amharic with an English translation.
“Most Ethiopian children have only access to text books in the classroom. Books children read outside of school, those are the spices of education”.
He is the founder of Ethiopia Reads, a philanthropic organization, started in 1998, with the motive of fostering literacy in Ethiopia. Using proceeds from book sales and grassroots book-a-thons, the nonprofit financed his efforts to bring children’s libraries to Ethiopia.
In 2002, Gebregeorgis left his job and moved back to Ethiopia with 15000 books and later, on April 5, 2003, he started The Shola Children’s Library with those books. In addition to the original library the organization established the reading centre named Awassa Reading Centre and Ethiopia’s donkey mobile libraries. These particular cart libraries, pooled by donkeys, were designed to facilitated children in rural parts of the country.
Today, Ethiopia Reads is an organization, which focuses on school libraries, young athlete’s education, membership, educator training program and also a proud holder of the proclamation of service provider that has served 1,20,000 children till date. In 2008, he was recognized as one of the Top 10 Heroes of the Year, by CNN.
Yohannes Gebregeorgis believes that a book has saved his life and that realization showered him with immense potential and courage to change the lives of the children, by spreading the knowledge even to the remotest corner of Ethiopia.
“With literate children there is no limit as to how much we can do.”
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