No slowing down for young HIV influencer

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022 09:15 | By

At only 13 years old, young Cleopatra Wanjiku had to learn of her HIV/Aids positive status, accept and live the rest of her life with a virus, which had also taken her mother’s life when she was too young to understand. She was immediately put on antiretroviral therapy. Since then it has been a journey of many challenges, which the 27-year-old has been able to not only overcome, but also push her to start a powerful movement —Voice of the Black Child, an online platform which is out to demystify the many myths associated with people living with HIV/Aids. The movement further seeks  to educate the society on the status— undetectable untransmittable- which she has been able to attain. 

She is also a successful business woman and the CEO of Pabaa Collection, an African print cloth line based in Nairobi. As her younger brother, Machira Breton shares, Cleopatra’s journey has been a mix of both joyful and very sad moments, but also a fighter through it all. 

Mixture of joyful and sad moments

“Cleopatra’s early childhood was a mixture of both joyful and sad moments. Joyful because everyone at home ensured she was a happy child especially since she was always an obedient child. At school, she was also good and determined to get the best out of her life. Her dream career was to be a successful media personality, though I really don’t know if she stills holds this desire to date. On an interesting note, I came to recently learn that she was a notorious girl committing minor school offenses while at Kiine Girls in Kirinyaga County, which normally called for the attention of our dad who was and has always been our family lawyer,” Machira narrates about his older sister’s childhood. 

Cleopatra is the first born in a family of five. Their parents, Daniel and Rebecca Machira have been mixed farmers, rearing dairy cows and cultivating crops on small scale as well as currently run an agrovet shop in Ihwagi, Mathira in Nyeri County. Cleopatra attended Karura Primary School also in Mathira before joining Kiine Girls High School in 2008. 

“When she sat her KCPE exams, she passed fairly well, but did not attain the grades she had hoped to get. Even so, she always aimed really high. So, she joined Kiarithaini Primary School in the same locality and repeated class eight ensuring she got the grades she wanted. She then joined Kiine Girls and sat for her KCSE in 2012. After which she joined Mt Kenya University to pursue a course in Bachelor of Science, Public Health; a course I didn’t believe she would take because she always dreamt of being a media personality,” shares her brother. 

University life was not smooth for Cleopatra and she was on and off course a couple of times before deferring in 2015, to pursue her then newly realized talent as a clothing artist. She started making beaded accessories, mats and ankara shoes. This new discovery bore her PABAA Collections; a clothing line that deals in all African and beaded accessories as well as African inspired attire.

Mentorship skills

In 2013 while still in University, she volunteered at Thika Level Five hospital where she gained mentorship skills and later worked with Centre for Health Solutions, a non-governmental organisation that mainly focuses on enhancing HIV treatment adherence. 

She has had an opportunity to work with National Organisations of Peer Educators, a non-governmental organisation that targets vulnerable and marginalised populations in Kenya and East Africa through advocacy and strategic behavioural communication using peer led approaches. Cleopatra has also worked with organisations such as Women Fighting Aids in Kenya and Positive Young Women Voices.  These experiences shaped her passion to work with people living with HIV by helping shape the narrative through demystifying myths.

All this while, Machira says, neither him nor his siblings were aware of their sister’s HIV status and that she was on antiretroviral treatment all along. 

“She has been on drugs and medical check-ups all her life since she was 13, a thing we all didn’t know as siblings until she went public about her HIV status in 2021. This has made me understand just how secretive she really is,” he says. 

Her digital platform ‘The Voice of a Black Child’ which she founded in January 2021, after going public on her status, serves as a safe space for conversations about things that are not freely discussed such as mental health, disabilities, failures, HIV treatment and management, disclosure, gender equality, promoting collaboration and advocating for a formal framework to raise awareness. 

Voice of the black child

Her strongest trait as her brother shares is her go-getter spirit. This has equally influenced not only him, but her other siblings as well. 

“She is naturally a go getter. In addition, she’s a true definition of the saying that difficulties are not in our lives to discourage us, but to challenge us to get the best out of ourselves. I mean despite her HIV status, she always has a positive attitude. Cleopatra always believes in pushing herself further to get the best out of herself. This actually motivates me to identify my niche and always work on myself to excel in it. She’s also a family person. She likes her siblings and always wants the best out of us too. I love her for that. Being the eldest, she mentors me and has always covered up for my mistakes in the past,” he fondly shares. 

He adds, “She loves me and I love her. I’m so close to her such that I’m always the first person in her kitchen cabinet and vice versa. On championing the journey of the Voice of the Black Child, I’ve always been on the forefront. Among the five events of the organisation, I only missed the Nyeri edition because I had examinations.”

Being a business woman, Machira believes is one of her super powers as she frequently comes up with new business ventures. 

“Cleopatra always has a business idea even when she’s sleeping. She normally wakes up and tells me about it in the morning; so yes, I’m her to-go to person. Also, she’s one of the fastest growing hustlers that I know. Her experience of moving the PABAA Collections shop from Kahawa West Market to River Road Beauty Centre is enough proof of that statement. In the next five years, I see her as a CEO because she has both the expansive attitude and growth mind set,” he says. 

She is also an ambassador for the  ‘Buy Kenya, Build Kenya initiative’ an initiative that pushes for the consumption of locally produced goods and services.

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