From Hollywood to Cape Town

I was 48, and had a successful career as a television producer/director, an 18-year marriage that friends envied, and two beautiful teenage daughters. My stepfather always said, “Man plans, God laughs.”  He must have gotten a belly full. Over the next three years, my stepfather died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and, shortly after I completed radiation, my mother died unexpectedly. Then I got the call about my best friend. Karen had had surgery that morning and hadn’t come out of anesthesia. My stomach dropped to my knees.

For two weeks, her older brother, Mitch and I took turns sitting by her bed. He told me stories of the HIV-positive mothers he treated every day in Cape Town. He shared his dream, a program he called mothers2mothers, that would educate, counsel and support these mothers in an effort to prevent the transmission of the deadly virus to their unborn babies.

After Karen died, my strength deserted me completely. I took anti-depressants, made it to work every day, and wondered how I would survive. One day, I got an invitation from Mitch: Come to Cape Town and see what I’m doing.

I went.  And fell madly, irrevocably in love with the women I met. I knew I had to take the reins of this fledgling grassroots organization. Mitch and I began with a skeleton volunteer staff, no budget or assets. It is now five years later. We’ve grown mothers2mothers into a multinational nonprofit with nearly six hundred sites in seven sub-Saharan African countries.  We employ almost 1,400 HIV-positive mothers, and reached about 300,000 last year with our messages of empowerment and education. We have been honored at the White House, briefed the Senate, and won the prestigious Skoll Entrepreneurial Award.  Do I miss the glamor of television?  What do you think?

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