Meet Marina...

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.

ma 2 pngMy 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 attended 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 became 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 but not limited to HIV. 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.)

Through listening and sharing feedback with the peer educators, I realised that we needed to leave useful material for the communities to use as a guide and resource.
Working with this in mind, I began undertaking the research and saw that a need existed and I could actually do something about it. Please don't get me wrong - there were plenty of books on HIV and AIDS out there ,but most of them were technical ,  anecdotal or 'doom and gloom' around this topic.  

I decided that a simple-to-follow, all in one positive resource was what I wanted to produce. A book that could be accessed by children, adolescents and adults alike.

A chance meeting at the Sowetan newspaper led to my introduction of a quiet and talented cartoonist named Sifiso Yalo. For me, it was a was perfect fit. Sifiso is in touch with the energy and angst of ordinary South Africans and he also bucks the trend that every newspaper cartoonist has to make political statements to draw attention to an issue.

And so, our journey began ....

Now, it is that same delightful style you will find in the book and I challenge you to find a way as we do in the book , of illustrating cartoon style , something as technical as STIs without showing blisters or sores...
And, one need not lose one's sense of humour when talking about HIV and AID. Please look carefully at page 14 of the book where an unprotected quickie on the side of the road between a truck driver and sex worker takes place outside a truck with the wording on the truck that declares Beware Bad Driving....
Sifiso does not only supply me with visuals or illustrations, he was and remains a partner in the project. Sifiso is identified on the cover and continues to be part of my extended family.

The book launched in March 2009 and it has formed the basis of my work in running training and counselling sessions with everyone from mining bosses to rural communities. We have worked extensively in many parts of South Africa and have been invited to train on two different occasions in Botswana.

My friend Jane Simmonds, has become part of our team and what an extraordinary person she is. She has completed her Masters Program at Wits in Public Health and is not only a teacher, my co-trainer but also a dear friend.  She is adamant that behaviour change is what is needed to stop the epidemic and firmly believes that this book will assist in slowing down the spread of HIV ..
We are currently recognized as lecturers for Sefako Makgatho Health University, Ga-Rankuwa where the book is part of the curriculum in the Department of Pharmacy Training and Development which incorporates and includes training at DIS -CHEM .  We continue to do training at schools ( most recent was Roedean Academy ) , for corporates and within the community.
But I am not only about my book ; i enjoy travelling with my family both locally and internationally , watching movies, collecting contemporary art, yoga, cooking and eating out and above all else, socialising.
I am happily married and have 3 beautiful children.