COVID Keeps Taking, This Time a Compassionate Heroine

May 15 , 2021
By Eden Sahle

Early Tuesday morning, I woke up to the heartbreaking news of the passing of a dear friend and mentor, Zemi Yenus. She was the founder of the first autism centre in Ethiopia and the public face of the compassion that needs to be shown to those that live with a psychological condition. Her passing is yet another tragic loss to the nation caused by the unmerciful killer, the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).

As the thousands the nation lost, Zemi, wife, mother, daughter, and sister, passed away at Saint Paul’s Hospital. She was treated for kidney failure after recovering from COVID-19 at the treatment centre in Millennium Hall.

All of us were happy when she recovered from the virus, but it had done enough severe damage that it created a kidney complication. She suddenly slipped into a coma to never wake up again. She shocked her doctors, who were confident that she was going to be well. It was a far more significant blow to her loved ones.

We were not able to visit her on her last days. But before she went into a coma, medical professionals were kind enough to connect her with us through a text.

“Please keep on praying for me,” were her last words to us, the heart-wrenching response many that have lost loved ones must have gotten.

Zemi, founder and director of Nia Foundation and Joy Autism Centre, courageously and tirelessly worked for the rights of children with autism. She was a voice to the voiceless and highly engaged in human rights, mental health, developmental challenges, awareness creation and equality. Death is cruel – she passed before witnessing the completion of the large facility under construction for the Centre.

Her journey on this path started with her youngest son, who was born with autism. Her life made an unexpected turn in a direction that she was not prepared for. Living abroad, one day, she and her son were kicked out from a public bus because of his condition – it was a microcosm of the social ostracism he was facing. She was not discouraged. She came back to Ethiopia not only to give a safe haven to her son but also to open the first autism centre in East Africa.

She has advocated for the rights of vulnerable children and brought a paradigm shift among the public, empowering parents from hiding their children with autism to seek help to better support them in their life journey. When meeting people, either on social occasions or in her professional life, she never tired of speaking proudly of the children at the Centre.

Over the two decades, the foundation has helped children and young people with communication, eating, keeping personal hygiene, writing, painting, cooking, and basic academic lessons. I have had the great pleasure of testing the children's colourful cooking. It is a Centre that would warm anyone's heart.

Zemi was a model of unwavering strength, openness, flexibility and compassion. The great number of people who pour out their love and admiration for Zemi following her passing indicates what a hero she was for many.

She has now rested, but her mission should be carried forward. She has built an institution. Most importantly, she has brought awareness to the country that mental challenges and conditions should not be taboo subjects. They could be managed and supported through the bare minimum of empathy. It is a legacy we have the responsibility of carrying over.

Her passing is also a potent reminder of the human cost of COVID-19 and how it takes without mercy the best and kindest amongst us. It is our prompt that the pandemic is far from over and of the need to observe social distancing and hygiene measures and not hesitate to get the vaccine.

PUBLISHED ON May 15,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1098]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at

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