Autism Spectrum Disorder is known to affect about 1% of the total world’s population. However, resources, education, and awareness is not so readily available for all. But Zemi Yenus, mother of two, was determined to give her son a better chance.
Yenus travelled to Los Angeles, CA where she put down roots and became a successful cosmetologist. In 1996, she decided to take her business back to her hometown of Addis Ababa and opened Ethiopia’s first licensed beauty school, Niana School of Beauty, with 6,000 students.
Although professionally she was succeeding, at home it was a slightly different story. Her son Jojo was not developing at the same pace as his other brother. While in California a doctor explained her son was simply a late talker. It wasn’t until they took a trip to the UK that he was diagnosed with autism. Like many parents, she felt helpless and didn’t know what to do.
At this point Yenus did everything she could to learn about the disorder. She soon developed a teaching method that incorporated the Ethiopian alphabet and sounds. The Abugida Fonetiks technique combined sounds and visual images to help the child read, write, and speak.
After a few years, Yenus founded the Joy Center, the first school specializing in teaching children with autism. Jojo was her first student starting at the age of 8 years old. Within a year his communication became stronger and he was able to say “mama.” Then came a very happy moment, wherein Jojo uttered “love you, mama.” This commemorated a truly joyous occasion for the family and a great accomplishment.
Now the school caters to 80 children who have access to music classrooms for social international and occupation therapy rooms to help strengthen fine motor skills.
Yenus’s successful achievements with her son caused quite a buzz around the town. The stigma surrounding autism and learning disabilities has changed tremendously in her area. What was once thought to be witchcraft or otherworldly, has now gained a far better understanding and acceptance. Even the Ethiopian government supports equal rights for all disabled individuals.
Her love for the school children eventually pushed Yenus to give up her business in the name of autism advocacy. Soon she developed new techniques and provided educational resources in her community. In the future she hopes to provide for all children in need within her country and within Africa. Here at ICare4Autism, we too support international global awareness and better resources. We have started an Autism Africa Initiative which has teamed up with the Karisa Foundation in Ghana. For more information please visit http://www.icare4autism.org/global-autism-center/autism-africa-initiative/
Written by Raiza Belarmino