The Nia Foundation organized a memorial event for Zemi Yenus at the Friendship Park, Tana Center, on June 6th, 2021, from 4:30 – 6:30 pm. The Foundation is appreciative of the Ministry of Health for having made this event possible.
The attendants included H.E Wzo Adanech Abebe, Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa, H.E Lia Tadesse, Minister of Health, H.E Dr Engr Getahun, Minister of Education, H.E Wzo. Hiwot Tadesse, State Ministry of Women, Children and Youth, Ato Assalefew representing the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, and along with religious leaders, families, and friends of Zemi.
The event, which started with a welcoming note by Wzo. Sara Hassen (Nia Foundation Board member) started with Zemi’s life journey and personality. Sara went on to beautifully explain how, the meaning of Zemi’s full name Zemzem, defined her personality, to “gather all” and provide haven.
The Keynote speaker, Dr. Lia Tadesse, expressed her heartfelt sorrow of the passing away of Zemi, and appreciated her work and dedication, on behalf of the Ministry. Dr Lia explained that although ensuring the availability of services such as education, health care etc. is the responsibility of the government, the government alone cannot reach to all communities, and thus, it is with partnerships with private sectors and the civil society, that the government can ensure the availability of services. Dr Lia explained that although Zemi’s legacy is primarily associated with her work on autism, the Minister credited Zemi for her contributions in social movement and addressing the socio-economic wellbeing of young girls and women; some of which includes: “Sinq Bet”, “ስንቅ ቤት” project protecting migrant young girls in Addis Ababa, a social movement which started as a radio program “Yagebagnal” – it concerns me, “ያገባኛል ይመለከተኛል”; and “… instead let us sell our talents”- particularly geared towards adolescent girls exposed to transactional sex. Dr. Lia expressed her appreciation for Zemi as the first one to have started providing services for children and persons with Autism. Dr Lia, further, explained that the Center of Excellence for Autism and Related Disorder that is currently under construction through Zemi’z dedicated effort, will be used for expansion of services for persons living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), for conducting various research on special needs, and for training purposes. In conclusion, Dr Lia expressed that the Ministry of Health, along with other stakeholders will assist in ensuring the continuity of the current center, and the completion of the Center of Excellence. The Minister also called for all Ethiopians to help to make this a reality.
H.E. Dr. Engr Getahun, Minister of Education, expressed the important work Zemi Yenus has done in educating children with special needs. Further, the Minister expressed that Zemi’s work represented the government’s work and thus her passing away will leave his ministry and other stakeholders a lot of work. He expressed that although the Ministry of Education provides services for millions of students, he recognized that one of the gaps in the education sector is appropriate services for children with special needs. Thus, he pointed out that Zemi, although an individual, is like representing his ministry and others, when she provided these critical services for many. Dr. Engr Getahun, affirmed that the Ministry of Education will be committed to work with Nia Foundation, to ensure the continuity of the service, in coordination with MoH and other ministries.
Both State Ministers Wr Hiwot and Ato Assalefew also reiterated their heartfelt condolences and appreciated the work of Zemi. They reaffirmed their Ministry’s commitment to ensure continuity of the services at the Nia Foundation.
H.E. Wzo. Adanech, Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa, expressed her heartfelt sorrow on the passing away of Zemi. Her excellency reiterated that Zemi’s work and legacy will continue after her passing away. She explained that Zemi has taught us that with commitment, perseverance, and love, anything is possible. She further expressed her personal knowledge of Zemi, during their time as members of the board of Addis Ababa Women’s Association, for the last 2 years. She expressed that she had observed Zemi’s strength during their service as board members. The Deputy Mayor particularly appreciated that Zemi never came late to meetings, was always prepared with additional references, and made significant contributions during meetings. Wzo. Adanech expressed that the City Administration will work with other stakeholders to ensure continuity of services and the realization of the Center of Excellence. The Deputy Mayor requested that a plan be presented to her as to how her office can assist in this important work.
As a tribute to Zemi’s holistic and well-lived life, Wzo. Meaza Birru, Executive Director of Sheger FM 102, gave a moving speech expressing Zemi in her own eyes. Wzo Saba Gebremedhin, Executive Director of Network of Ethiopian Women Association (NEWA), expressed her profound condolences on behalf of all women organizations in Ethiopia and civic society organizations. Wzo. Saba reiterated the commitment of her organization and broader civil society network in Ethiopia to support the cause and ensure continuity of Zemi’s legacy.
Ustaz Abubaker and Megabi Addis, representing the Muslim and Christian communities respectively reiterated their personal knowledge of Zemi, and both had similar explanations for of her character – particularly her work for the vulnerable, her dedication to unity and services for all regardless of religious, ethnic, or other differences. They both emphasized that Zemi’s work is reflective of how our Creator would have wanted each of us to live our lives.
The Board of Directors appreciate the commitment of the City Administration of Addis Ababa, the Federal Ministries of Health, Education, Labor and Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth. The BoD is very touched by the outpour of grief and support from all members of the community in Ethiopia and abroad. The staff and BoD of the Nia Foundation look forward to working with government partners, volunteers, the private sector, and civil society organizations in ensuring the continuity of services at the Joy Center and realizing the establishment of the Center of Excellence for Autism in Ethiopia – A vision of Zemi Yenus to see a society whereby ALL PEOPLE enjoy quality of life to the best of their potential despite their different abilities.
Please refer to the following links to watch the full program:
Arts Tv has also a shortened version on the following website:
It is with great sadness that we announce the sudden death of Zemi Yenus, the founder and Executive Director of Nia Foundation. The Board of Directors offer their most profound condolences to her family, friends, the autism society of Ethiopia, and the entire Nia Foundation Staff and Partners.
Zemi's work included the establishment of the Joy Center for children with Autism which not only train children with autism with both basic and advanced life skills, but also assists mothers of children with autism that need financial support by creating an income generating activity that is sensitive to their needs and schedule. Joy Center also provides a nutritionally balanced meal, particularly focused on gluten-free diet appropriate for autistic children, for all its students including cooking sessions as part of their independent skills training. Zemi also served children with autism that do not attend the school by visiting families in their homes and providing training and most importantly by encouraging and counselling parents. Zemi is also instrumental in creating a vibrant parent support group,
Zemi's work was not only focused on autism but also included other vulnerable groups in society such as women forced into becoming sex workers, street boys, women returning from migration, sexually abused women etc. by providing practical skills and instilling confidence in themselves; so that they can reintegrate and become productive members of society.
Zemi was an active board member of the Red Cross, member of the national mental health advisory committee, a Rotarian, a member of Women for Life – an organization dedicated to ensuring that “no woman should die while giving birth”, to name a few.
Zemi is also highly credited for creating a social movement "yagebagnal" - I Care! - which has been successful in instilling in each of us to become responsible and caring members of society - a society that can think outside of its little box, a society that can transcend divisions based on ethnicity, religion, ability level and other artificial barriers, and instead focus on humanity.
While we mourn the passing of a great woman who has left behind a powerful legacy of humility, hard work and dedication for the most vulnerable, we remain united in the continuity of the service and in ensuring her dreams are achieved.
We appreciate the outpour of grief on social and traditional media outlets. Zemi was indeed a unique woman. There will be a memorial service to celebrate Zemi’s life and achievements and share her vision and continue her legacy. The BoD will announce the date of the service.
The Board of Directors of Nia Foundation