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‘It feels surreal’: Anais Menounos named The Greek Herald Woman of the Year

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Jumping in at the end of a Teams meeting where the selection panel were deliberating the nominations for ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’ Award, I was excited to hear who they had chosen as its inaugural winner.

In less than one hour, Federal Member for Calwell, Maria Vamvakinou MP, the SA Minister for Small and Family Business, Consumer and Business Affairs, and the Arts, Andrea Michaels MP, and the CEO of Settlement Services International, Violet Roumeliotis AM, had carefully reviewed the nominations and decided on 15 inspirational finalists and one winner.

After naming each finalist, all three ladies gave a small drumroll as they announced that the winner of ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’ Award was Anais Menounos, a 29-year-old Sydney lawyer and co-founder of the St Nicholas Mission Academy in Ghana, Africa.

anais menounos the greek herald woman of the year
Anais Menounos (left) with Publisher of The Greek Herald, Dimitra Skalkos (right). Photo copyright: Effy Alexakis.

‘Remarkable initiative and courage in her global humanitarian work’:

Having already asked Anais to be a panellist at the Greek Festival of Sydney’s International Women’s Day event on Friday, March 8 in collaboration with The Greek Herald – where the Award winner was also set to be announced to the public – I found her victory to be a serendipitous and exciting surprise.

When I explained the situation to Ms Vamvakinou, Ms Michaels and Ms Roumeliotis, the surprise yet joy on their faces was also evident.

“No way!” they chorused, laughing as they had no idea.

They also went on to explain why they had selected Anais out of the more than 300 nominations we had received for ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’ Award.

Ms Roumeliotis said Anais stands out as an unsung heroine who’s work in Ghana and within the Greek community in Australia was “profound and unrecognised.”

anais menounos the greek herald woman of the year
Anais on a St Nic’s school excursion in Ghana in 2022. Photo supplied.

“Anais has gone above and beyond by establishing a school in Ghana where the challenges are obvious. It is not only about principles and motivation but also about the operations and logistics required to set up and sustain such an initiative successfully,” Ms Roumeliotis said.

“The lasting impact of her efforts is evident in fostering a sense of dignity for every child and their family. Supporting a child in this brings substantial benefits to the entire family and has far-reaching implications for the future.

“Anais’ story ties back to the youth in Australia of Greek origin, encouraging them to engage in fundraising initiatives, be mindful of their privilege and opportunities, and contribute to the well-being of children on the other side of the world. Although these young people may never meet those they are helping, their contributions are making a meaningful change in their lives.”

 the greek herald woman of the year
Violet Roumeliotis was on the selection panel for ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’ Award. Photo copyright: Effy Alexakis.

Ms Vamvakinou agreed with Ms Roumeliotis.

“Anais was chosen because she has displayed remarkable initiative and courage in her global humanitarian work, making a profound impact on the lives of children in Ghana, gifting them with the opportunities that education and learning offers and at the same time, connecting her work and its purpose to children back home in Australia, raising their awareness of the value and importance of volunteering and giving to those in need,” Ms Vamvakinou said.

Ms Michaels added that Anais is making an extraordinary difference for children living in extreme poverty.

“We know that education is the best way to break the cycle of poverty and access to it opens the door to a world of opportunity for these children. Anais has created a sustainable program to provide that for the future and we felt that ought to be recognised and celebrated. She’s an unsung hero who is changing these children’s lives for the better,” Ms Michaels said.

The Greek value of philotimo:

Our selection panel couldn’t have summed up Anais’ achievements any better.

Anais co-founded St Nicholas Mission Academy in Ghana, Africa in 2018 with the help of Inusah Amidu. St Nic’s – for short – is a school in the Ghanaian town of Kokrobite which offers free education to children from families that live below the poverty line.

anais menounos the greek herald woman of the year
Anais with Inusah Amidu.

I first spoke with Anais in 2021 and she told me she decided to open the school in Ghana after she volunteered with an NGO in the country and witnessed for herself the poverty and inequality experienced by some children.

“When I was there, a child ran up to me and begged me for a book and it honestly rattled me that someone… had that thirst for knowledge that we take for granted. Here, you know, people throw out their books for council clean-up and over there, people are begging for books and can’t afford to buy them,” Anais said.

“So for me, coming from a place where I really value the education that I received and I’m really trying my best to put it to good use, I can see how even just to provide basic education to disadvantaged children in a different part of the world can really change their life.”

This sentiment remains with her today and has seen St Nic’s grow considerably.

The school currently has at least 250 students, 15 staff (11 of which are female) and 10 classes ranging from nursery to Kindergarten Level 1, Kindergarten Level 2, Primary Grades 1 to 6, and a composite junior high class. St Nic’s is also fully registered with the Ghanian Education Ministry.

anais menounos the greek herald woman of the year
Anais (third from left) with staff at St Nic’s. Photo supplied.

This is no small feat given 29 percent of children in Ghana do not complete primary school, 53 percent do not complete lower secondary and 65 percent do not complete upper secondary, according to statistics from UNICEF.

Whilst the Ghana government says education is “free,” the reality is very different. Government subsidies do not reach every community, which places a burden on families to cover the cost of books, uniforms and lunch.

Families who earn very little must sacrifice sending their children to school to be able to feed their families and provide shelter.

Anais said St Nic’s fills this void in Ghana. The school provides free tuition, lunches and drinking water, health insurance registration, books and stationery to children who have no access to the education system at no fault of their own.

anais menounos the greek herald woman of the year
Students at St Nic’s. Photo supplied.

With all this in mind, Anais is clearly a worthy recipient of ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’ Award.

The 29-year-old said it was “so surreal” to be recognised for her work.

“I didn’t start St Nic’s to have all these accolades. I started it just out of a pure need to provide education to children who really needed it, but I am so honoured and humbled to be recognised by my Greek community,” Anais said.

“It is this Greek community and its values that shaped me as a person and instilled in me the value of philotimo, which I carry with me in my work with St Nic’s. So it’s been really, really special.”

anais menounos the greek herald woman of the year
Anais was surprised when she was awarded ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’ Award. Photo: Effy Alexakis.
anais menounos the greek herald woman of the year
Anais Menounos, winner of ‘The Greek Herald Woman of the Year’ Award.

Anais also expressed her thanks to sponsors and her supporters, including James Stevens from Mr Roses, Harry Mavrolefteros from First Education and All Saints Grammar, as well as The Greek Herald and its team for their acknowledgement of her work.

“I just wanted thank you personally, and other members of The Greek Herald team… I’m so grateful for the fact you even remembered who I was and asked me to be on the panel and now the Award recognition. Genuinely, this has been such an amazing experience for me and it’s amazing exposure for the school,” she said.

If you would like to sponsor the school or find out more about what they do, you can visit the website at: https://www.stnicma.org/

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