Yelugnta & Gemena: NYC Workshop Aims to Break Taboo of Mental Illness in Ethiopian Community

Yelugnta and Gemena workshop poster courtesy of ECMAA.

Tadias Magazine

By Tadias Staff

Updated: March 7th, 2020

New York (TADIAS) — This weekend a timely public workshop is being held in New York City highlighting the taboo topics of mental health in the Ethiopian Community including intimate partner violence (IPV) as well as the growing prevalence of autism among young children.

The event, which is scheduled to take place on Saturday, March 7 at African Services Committee in Uptown Manhattan, is organized by ECMAA, African Services Committee, Ethiopian Edir Mutual Assistance Association, Habesha Health and the Medhanialem Tewahedo Church.

“The Amharic word Yelugnta drives many decisions and feelings in our community. Yelugnta keeps everyone responsible for each other and helps guide people’s decisions,” the announcement states. “Literally, Yelugnta means “what will people say” and Gemena “my secret”.” It added: “Both Yelugnta and Gemena, more detrimentally keep people from asking for help, keep them alone and from talking about things that could be judged or talked about. It keeps everyone silent and suffering alone.”

Organizers stress that the goal of the program is to break the silence and to “create a space to enable frank discussion in a way that is responsive to the community; provide a common language for open communication; and identify skills and resources needed to seek help and provide preliminary support.”

The upcoming workshop will have two parts:

“The first, an opening interactive session with Betty Bekele as a facilitator will cover the overarching goals for the day focusing on Yelugnta and Gemena. The first session will end with the sharing of lessons learned from the Thrive NYC First Aid Mental Health workshop. The second half of the day will consist of two consecutive sessions for more in-depth and practical discussion about topic specific challenges and resources including intimate partner violence – with Sanctuary for Families and African Services Committee; and Autism – with Azeb Araya from the Ethiopian and Eritrean Special Needs Community, Fana Said and Mulugeta Semework. At the end of the day, participants will leave with concrete resources and information about members of the community who will make themselves available as a contact for future questions/issues.

Actions and Guidelines to Ensure Success:
To create the safe place for open discussion, the following guidelines are critical:
1. Focus is building space for open communication, not fixing specific problems.
2. During the day and beyond, emphasize confidentiality and good intent as well as no judgement,
3. Provide practical information and tools to manage communication and build confidence.

Join ECMAA in planning this event and guiding its content to make it as specific to the community as possible. Contact them at to learn about how you can participate.

If You Go:
Yelugnta, Gemena and Communication in Our Community Workshop
March 7,2020
from 10AM to 4PM
African Services Committee
429 West 127th Street
New York, NY
More info at

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