A little more about me… I was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa and have lived here for most of my life. I am the third of five children and growing up in a large Greek family defined many of the characteristics that have contributed to who I am today. My mom owned the Three Sisters Restaurant and Cafe in HilIbrow for 28 years. I have so many exciting memories of Hillbrow. It was a melting pot and so ahead of its time in the 70’s and 80’s. I met a wide selection of people from prostitutes to trans-gendered people, street children, freedom fighters, local mafia members, informers, policemen, boxing champions etc. At the restaurant I worked setting tables, seating people, rolling knives and forks in serviettes and enjoyed the Greek dancing that became a feature of the restaurant!
My mom instilled a very strong work ethic in me, as well as a realisation and belief that anything is possible with application and commitment. The excitement and vibrancy of Hillbrow gave me a desire to love and embrace people and life and taught me early on not to be judgemental and to be culturally sensitive.
Despite the vibrant environment I was in we were experiencing turbulent times – apartheid, poverty, the freedom struggle and the very personal experience of the bombing of “Garbo’s”, a late night gay cafe which was next to our restaurant. Interestingly, through my work at the Three Sisters I knew the first recorded man in South Africa to die of AIDS, who was a customer of ours.
After school I went to the University of Witwatersrand where I completed a BA followed by an Honours degree in Psychology. Following my graduation I went to Europe. I started off teaching English to school children in Athens and later became the head hostess and assistant to the manager of the Ritz hotel in London which was an amazing experience!
On my return to South Africa in the early 90′s, I opened my own restaurant Cafe Three Sisters in Rosebank and what fun that was! My brother and I grew the restaurant from a shell to a beautiful, cutting edge late-night cafe where people came to meet, mix and eat well. We worked 17 hour shifts and I doubled as a waitress.
After the birth of my first child, I got involved in a life skills program through SANCA (The South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.) I really enjoyed going to different schools and interacting with teenagers. This program became the precursor to Life Orientation (LO) now taught at schools with a focus on openly discussing all aspects of sex, alcohol and drugs. Extraordinarily, although HIV was already rampant in our communities, it was not a significant topic in these SANCA courses.
When I returned to South Africa in 2001, the country was in the early stages of acknowledging that HIV was becoming part of our reality. A friend, Bev Katz, took me to Ethembeni Children’s Home in Doornfontein were I implemented a Stimulation Program for babies and toddlers. It was here that I became aware of HIV and AIDS in babies and small children and I began to develop an interest in this highly challenging and emotive area. Ethembeni, a Salvation Army home for abandoned children, is home to children with a variety of challenging circumstances including HIV inception. After 3 years, I had managed to turn around the child care and had created an environment of interaction between care givers and children which led to the children developing and reaching their mile stones at the appropriate ages. It was during this time that my interest in HIV and AIDS developed.
In 2005, Bev and I tendered successfully for the Standard Bank Peer Educator Wellness Programme which consisted of 3 days of HIV/AIDs training and awareness run by Peter Labouchere and 2 days Life Skills coaching by myself and Bev. Together with Peter (of the award winning Bridges of Hope Programme), we trained over 1,500 peer educators using course material and accredited tests designed by us. This 5-day HIV and AIDS Awareness Program was used locally, nationally and in 13 other African countries. This project was part of two awards that Standard Bank won (Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS 2008 Workplace Awards for Business Excellence and AfriComNet 2008 Award for Excellence in HIV and AIDS Communication in Africa.)
It was while I was training for Standard Bank that I became aware of the need for a HIV and AIDS resource book that was comprehensive, pragmatic, easy to read, factually correct and without moral judgement and political overtones. Sex is part of a healthy adult’s life but everyone needs to make sure that this is safe and and protected sex. We must make sex safer!
In 2009 I decided to write a book to fill the need I saw in our HIV and AIDS knowledge. I approached Sifiso Yalo, editorial cartoonist and illustrator for the Sowetan newspaper and winner of the Vodacom Journalist of the Year (Cartoon Category) in 2007 to illustrate the book and immediately we hit it off.
Combining my passion and drive for this project and Sifiso’s interest in using cartoons as a medium for increasing HIV awareness, we spent 18 months producing the bestselling book entitled HIV & AIDS. We have sold over 250,000 books to businesses, schools, universities, organisations and to the man on the street.
My desire is to have this book accessible to as many people as possible to empower them to take control and ownership of their sexual behaviour and to have a very good understanding of every facet of HIV and AIDS.
In the training that I currently do, I use the content of the book as well as updated research to provide people with the knowledge to handle HIV and AIDS issues and to use this knowledge to begin discussions of these issues with colleagues, friends and family in to order to change behaviour. It is not enough for people to just know about HIV/AIDS any more.
Personal decisions and action needs to be taken by individuals in an empowered and informed context and in order to do this they need to have the correct information and knowledge. This is what I aim to do with this book and my training programmes.
But I am not only about my book and HIV and AIDS. I am also about having fun with my family and friends! I love shopping, movies, collecting contemporary art, travelling, food and enjoy interacting with people.
I trust you will join me on this journey!