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The OFFICIAL: Zemi Yenus legacy Fund on Autism

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On behalf of the late founder Zemi Yenus, the Nia Foundation Board of Directors calls for support to continue the Joy Center for Autism in Ethiopia.

The Beginning

Nia Foundation was established in May of 2002 with a vision of a brave woman, Zemi Yenus, who firmly believed that all should enjoy the full quality of life regardless of their disabilities.  Zemi began the foundation due to her own struggles to find a safe haven for her son, who had autism. Much like the rest of Africa, in Ethiopia, autism was regarded as a result of a "curse" rather than a mental or developmental disability. As such, treatments were often to address spiritual matters rather than aimed at improving an individual’s functional skills. Untreated and rejected individuals with autism were unwelcome in schools, community activities, and often their own families. 

 Zemi saw and shared the pain of many parents who wanted to provide the same quality of life to their children that neurotypical children enjoyed. She saw that the most significant gap was a lack of opportunity for quality interventions as well as a physical location to provide needed learning and therapeutic supports.  As such, Zemi made the decision that would change the course of her family and other families in Ethiopia; she developed the first Autism center in Ethiopia.

Establishing the first Autism Center in Ethiopia

The Joy Center was the first-of-its-kind in Ethiopia. Named after her son Jojo, Joy was selected to illustrate that the Center is a place that is truly joyful; it is a place where holistic rehabilitation and training is provided to individuals with autism and related disorders. Nia, meaning "good intentions," was chosen as a name for the Foundation. 

Zemi’s success has been documented by major media outlets, including CNN, BBC, CGTN, and others. She serves as an example of how one woman can change the course for so many. In Africa, she is viewed as the mother of thousands of children.

The dream is not over…

While her center became the knowledge hub of autism, giving light to tens of thousands of families across the country, Zemi knew that hundreds of thousands of persons living with autism have no access to services across the country. The majority of them are isolated, labeled with a taboo "of being cursed," often chained in darkness in locked rooms; access to health care, education, and other social services is limited. Parents and siblings of children with autism are affected by missing work, school, and other opportunities while struggling to care for them. At present, more than 500  children with Autism are waiting for a call to be accepted into the center.

Sadly, Zemi passed away on May 10th, 2021, due to COVID-19 induced health complications, leaving behind a strong legacy. As such, the Board of Directors of the Nia Foundation is developing a  framework to sustain her legacy and move the project forward. 

Meeting the needs of the country.

Zemi planned to expand the center by building the "Joy Center of Excellence for Autism." To date, the land has been secured from the Addis Ababa City Administration, and construction has begun.  Not only will the center be a state-of-the-art therapeutic and learning place welcoming thousands it will also serve as a knowledge hub generating culturally informed research for addressing autism in the African context. The goal is to provide a permanent solution and serve the country at large. 

Immediate Needs
The Joy Center needs funding to continue its current service to the autism community. 
·      Annual cost is USD 167,000.
·      We seek to secure three years of funding (500,000 USD) to develop a sustainable business plan. 

Her sacrifice will not be in vain and will deliver her legacy. Join us! Be part of the Movement. 


Information about the foundation can be found: 
Questions may be directed to Dr. Waganesh Zeleke and Adey Abate( Board Member of Nia Foundation)

Fundraising team (8)

Waganesh Zeleke
Pittsburgh, PA
Billal Yousuf
Adey Abate
Team member
Sara Hassen
Team member
Yakob Seman Ahmed
Team member
Azeb Adere
Team member

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