May 11, 2021

EXTREME MONTAGE

We, Deliver

My HIV journey: 27-year-old Cleopatra Wanjiku

By Jasmine Atieno

Having a lifetime illness is scary. Knowing that you would
be on medications in your whole life is not an easy thing. Yet this is what
27-year-old Cleopatra Wanjiku Machira has had to deal with since it was
disclosed to her at 13 years that she was HIV positive. Her grandmother had
taken her for clinic when a hospital nurse disclosed to her her status.

Immediately, she was put on antiretroviral therapy (ART). It
was in 2007 and she was about to sit her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education
(KCPE) exams at Karura Primary School, Mathira in Nyeri.

She found herself worrying of what secondary school life would
be like.

“I felt different. Children can be unkind you know. When I
joined Kiine Girls High School, in Kirinyaga in 2008, I tried my best to adhere
to my treatment, but it wasn’t so easy due to the fear of stigmatisation once
people saw me taking drugs,” she says.

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After her secondary education, Cleopatra decided to pursue a
course in Public Health. She joined Mt Kenya University and majored in
Community Health and HIV Management though she has been on and off the
university for various reasons. In 2013 while still in campus she started
volunteering at Thika Level 5 hospital where she got equipped with mentorship
skills and later worked with Center for Health Solutions, a nongovernmental organization
that mostly focuses on good adherence in the HIV world.

Breaking point

She has had an opportunity of working with National
Organisation of Peer Educators, a nongovernmental organisation, which targets
vulnerable and marginalised populations in Kenya and East Africa through
advocacy and strategic behavioural communication using peerled approaches and
other organisations such as Women Fighting Aids in Kenya and Positive Young Women
Voices.

It is during one of her sessions out of school that she
developed an interest in fashion and design and started training herself. This
later became the birth of her business, Pabaa collections in 2017, a cloth line
that focuses on African themed attires and beaded accessories.

But in the beginning of 2018, she dropped out of campus
because she could not juggle between the growing business and school.

It is in the same year that Cleopatra almost reached
breaking point. “I felt like I had had enough of everything and I needed a
break, yes a break from the medication and this is exactly what I told my
doctor. I wanted to feel free like any other person, lead a normal life and
have the freedom to do anything I wanted,” shares a firstborn in a family of
six.

“I stopped attending clinic and taking medication. I was
tired, exhausted, angry and most probably frustrated. I defaulted for almost a
year and my health deteriorated. I remember my friend taking me to hospital where
I was put on care again. The very person who gives hope to the discouraged was
here being given hope. The health workers were disappointed. I had let them
down. I never thought I’d make it, let alone make it out sane, but I did and
through it all, I learnt that the human spirit possess strength that each and
every one of us has the power to grow through our worst nightmares. Out of
their support, I got back in good shape and went back to mentorship and of
course achieved my undetectable status, this being my biggest achievement,” she
recalls.

Impacting others

In January this year, she started a movement, “The Voice of
a Black Child”, a digital platform that serves as a safe space for
conversations about things we don’t freely discuss such as mental health,
disabilities, failures, HIV treatment and management, disclosure, gender equality,
promoting collaboration and advocating for a formal framework to raise
awareness.

“Having been born and living with HIV, I have learnt to heal
my wounds and I’m now ready to teach others so that we can grow together. On my
digital platform, we hold conversations about things that we do not usually
talk about. Be it a failed business, relationship, marriage, health, losing a
job, a loved one or whatever reason that makes your heart bleed. So many people
come to me for encouragement — people are truly going through issues out here.
I felt someone somewhere needed to hear my story and that’s why I embraced it
with the aim to inspire, motivate, educate and encourage others. The scars you
hide are beautiful. Flaunt them. Healing comes from uncovering and addressing
your wounds not covering them,” says Cleopatra.

Through all this, she has learnt that in life, two things
are real: God and hard work. It is her hope that people will come to understand
that HIV doesn’t kill, stigma does, hence it’s upon people to tolerate each and
every one in the society

“Normalise putting God first because He never disappoints
and no one can curse what He has blessed. It’s unfortunate that many young
people are actually suffering from self-stigma. This is where you feel you’re
not worthy. Self-love is self-care. Again, the world is cruel, so love yourself,”
she says.

The post My HIV journey: 27-year-old Cleopatra Wanjiku appeared first on K24 TV.

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