Thursday, October 09, 2008

Yohannes named Top Ten Hero of the Year by CNN

Denver, CO -- Yohannes Gebregeorgis, a native of Ethiopia and children's literacy advocate, has been named a Top 10 Hero of the Year by CNN. Mr. Gebregeorgis was selected from more than 3,000 individuals nominated by viewers throughout the year. Finalists were selected by a Blue Ribbon panel of judges that includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jane Goodall and Deepak Chopra. The Top 10 Heroes will be recognized in CNN's "All-Star Tribute" to air on Thanksgiving.

Mr. Gebregeorgis was first recognized as a "hero" by CNN in May for his work championing children in Ethiopia. A former political refugee who worked as a librarian at San Francisco Public Library, Mr. Gebregeorgis is the co-founder of Ethiopia Reads, a non-profit organization that works to create a reading culture in Ethiopia by connecting children with books. In a country where 99% of schools have no libraries, Mr. Gebregeorgis and Ethiopia Reads are improving lives, one book at a time.

Vote for Yohannes here.

From October 12 to December 15, Mr. Gebregeorgis will visit cities across the United States, sharing his story and vision for Ethiopia Reads. Cities include Washington, DC; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Kansas City, KS; Denver, CO; Albuquerque, NM; Los Angeles, CA; Minneapolis, MN; and New York, NY. A complete itinerary follows.

Growing up in rural Ethiopia with very little access to books, Gebregeorgis was 19 years old the first time he picked up a book for pleasure. This experience went on to shape his life as a literacy advocate, children's book author, and co-founder of Ethiopia Reads, a non-profit organization based in Denver, CO and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Gebregeorgis came to the United States in 1983 seeking political asylum from the then-military dictatorship in Ethiopia. He worked as a hospital pharmacist and continued pursuing his education, earning a Bachelor's of Arts in journalism and English literature and a Master's degree in library science.

Later, as a children's librarian at the San Francisco Public Library, Gebregeorgis realized there were few books published in local Ethiopian languages. So he wrote Silly Mammo, the first bilingual Amharic-English children's book. He enlisted the support of acclaimed children's author, Jane Kurtz, who helped raise funds for the first printing. Ms. Kurtz is now President of the Ethiopia Reads Board of Directors.

In 2002, Gebregeorgis left his job in San Francisco and returned to Ethiopia. With 15,000 books donated by the San Francisco Children's Library, he opened a children's library on the first floor of his Addis Ababa home. The library was so deluged by children that it soon required the addition of two large tents.

Today, Shola Children's Library records an average of 60,000 visits per year. Additionally, Ethiopia Reads is planting libraries in public schools across Addis Ababa and Awassa at the rate of one per month. Ethiopia Reads has published six bi-lingual story books for children.

Gebregeorgis is the recipient of the 2008 Presidential Citation for International Innovation from the American Library Association, the first to receive this honor in its inaugural year.

Gebregeorgis lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he serves as the Executive Director of Ethiopia Reads.