First woman parilamentarian buried
The funeral for author, activist, patriot, and Ethiopia’s first woman parliamentarian, Sendu Gebru has taken place at the Holy Trinity Cathedral Church on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 in the presence of Abune Paulos, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
President Girma Wolde Giorgis paid his respect to the late Sendu by sending flowers to her funeral. Mourners included the Ethiopian parliament’s woman representative, Netsanet Asfaw
and other local political leaders.
The late Sendu’s son, Ethiopia’s current ambassador to the United States, Dr. Samuel Assefa arrived in Addis on Tuesday to attend the service.He was visibly shaken as prayers and blessings were chanted during the ceremony.
The Honorable Sendu Gebru, who had been in a frail condition recently, died at her home on Easter night, aged 94.
Rita Pankurst who has known Sendu for many years described her as a very independent-minded and formidable woman. “I have always been a great admirer of her.She was the heroine of my life.” Rita told Addis Journal.
Rita said she always went to see her on holidays with some flowers, including this past Easter morning where she was awake but died that evening. Rita says Sendu who has been the first Ethiopian school director of Etege Menen school has done tremendous amount of job in promoting girls education. She was “a great believer in the importance of education in general and girls in a particular” according to Mrs. Pankurst.
Another former student of Etege Menen School said, “The loss of Woizero Sendu is enormous but she leaves a legacy of accomplishment, hope and commitment for the community and her country.”
Sendu was born in 1915 in Addis Alem. She was the eldest daughter of Kentiaba Gebru Desta, a prominent figure who worked for Emperor Minilk after studying in Switzerland and Germany. By many accounts, her father was as a remarkable man who had a big influence on her. Her mother Kassaye also came from an important family in Wollo.
Sendu begun school at the age of 6 at Swedish Mission School, considered one of the best in the city. She studied there until grade 8.
In 1928, she left for Switzerland with her younger sister, Yewebdar Gebru who later became Emahoy Tsigie-Maryam Gebru, the famous pianist and music composer now settled in Jerusalem.
Sendu remained in Swiss until 1935, studying languages, history, geography and law.
After her return to Ethiopia, she became a teacher.
She first taught at St. George School, a boy’s school in Addis that had a girl’s section. She taught French, Amharic writings and hygiene.
It was in those years that she met her future husband Lorenzo Tizazu, an Eritrean who studied in France by the Ethiopian government’s help.
She moved to Harar after they got married. When hostilities with the Italian begun, they came back to Addis and her husband left the country with Emperor Haile Sealssie.
Sendu remained in Ethiopia and joined a patriot’s group directed by Ras Imru towards Gore. She and other similarity committed young women acted as nurse for the wounded fighters, resisting the invading army. But the group was captured and together with other prominent people taken to Italy where Sendu stayed for two years and half.
She came to Ethiopia in 1939 under the Italian occupation. Separated from her first husband, Sendu re-married Dejazmatch Amede Wolde. But their marriage didn’t last long either.
After victory in 1941, she was appointed as directress of Wozero Sihin School in Dessie.
Soon, she was called to Addis and was assigned as assistant headmaster of Etege Menen School, the first girl’s school. At Menen School, she immediately impressed people with her upbeat attitude and forceful style. In 1959, she was appointed as director, the first Ethiopian woman to hold that post. She headed the school for eight years.
Writing was another of her careers. While at Menen, she produced numerous plays, including “Your Star shall yet again shine” and “January days”, acted by students. The premier of the latter play that glorified the patriotic deeds of Ethiopian resistance fighters during the invasion was attended by Emperor Haile Selassie and his Etege Menen.
Then she married Major Assefa Lemma, her last husband from whom she had three children.
In 1950 Sendu became a member of Ethiopian Women’s Welfare Work Association. She worked for the rehabilitation of disabled weavers.
In 1954, she won a parliament seat representing the Gulele area, making history by becoming one of the first two parliamentarians. During her time in the parliament, she took stands on issues years ahead of many other opticians, long before such positions became fashionable. On women’s issue, she had solid record. Her infuriating confrontational style won her enemies throughout political circles. But one ever doubted her integrity, principle, and her commitment to helping. She was afterward elected vice- president of the parliament, which provoked the ire the male dominated establishment.
After stepping out from parliament, Sendu continued to involve in various endeavors and she became member of the board of the Ethiopian Red Cross and later chair of the committee.
In 1960, her husband was assigned as the country’s ambassador to East Germany and she went with him. She became an educational attaché at the embassy. According to Rita Pankurst, it was a time when she wrote quite a lot about her life, of which 32 exercise books are kept at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies.
As an author, she wrote more than ten books. Her writings include poetry, drama and fiction. Some of the writings were collected in 1950 under the tile “Ye Lebie Mestahaf” (Book of my Heart), which were social, political and patriotic addresses.
Sendu also wrote articles for newspapers and magazines both in Amharic and English, one of the famous that she wrote for Ethiopia Observer in Feb 1957 about girls education.
Sendu spoke many languages: German, French, English, and Italian.
Towards the end of her life, Sendu received an honorary degree from the Addis Ababa University.