Born with HIV but my life hasn't lost meaning 29 years on

Cleopatra Wanjiku, who was born HIV positive. She runs The Voice of a Black Child that campaigns against stigmatisation and supports those living with the virus.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

What you need to know:

  • Cleopatra Wanjiku Machira did not know she was positive until 2007, when she was 13.
  • Her mother died when she was aged eight.

Cleopatra Wanjiku Machira has been living with HIV for 29 years.  She was born with the virus. However, she did not discover that she was positive until 2007, when she was 13, during her normal chest clinics.

“All along, I was a sickly child but didn’t know that I was positive, not until I was 13; that’s when they felt that it was right to disclose to me,” says Wanjiku.

It was not easy to receive the bad news at that time. “Having lost my mum at 8 and now being told that I’m HIV positive only proved that the world is so untrustworthy. I felt like the world had come to an end,” she says.

Wanjiku, however, has not lost hope. She has been running a campaign dubbed ‘The Voice of a Black Child’, to create awareness of stigmatisation.

“I’m a fashion designer running an African themed clothing line called Pabaa Collections, and the founder of a community-based organisation called The Voice of a Black Child,” says Wanjiku.

The support she has been receiving is only ARV drugs from the government.  “I’ve had supportive family members that held my hand all through. It’s been a journey of courage, determination and resilience,” she adds.

War on stigma

“It’s a legally registered CBO that focuses on HIV sensitisation, sexual reproductive health and rights, plus contraceptives awareness, as well as strengthen the fight against stigma and discrimination in our society. I founded this organisation after going public about my HIV and it’s been one year of impacting the lives of our beneficiaries.”

She started it in 2021 during her birthday. Since then, they have had six editions.

“We have had community outreach to three children’s homes that host those living with HIV, another event in Nyeri prison where we got an invite and another in Sacred Diocese of Murang’a, where 60 adolescents and young people came together for our services.

“We’ve had an opportunity to work with some companies in kind such as Indomie Kenya, Tropical Heat, Zingo Africa, Cakes & Muffin House, Street Artskool,” she says, adding that during their outreach events, they give food packages to their beneficiaries to take home.

She has a YouTube Channel known as Cleopatra Wanjiku, which she uses for sensitisation. In addition, she uses her online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “We equally have a WhatsApp support group where we have conversations around our mission,” adds the optimistic Wanjiku, who hopes to partner with the government and other organisations for the cause.

Their major challenge is inadequate funding, but she has a strong supportive team that always comes through.


“My brand Pabaa Collections focuses on African-themed items and beaded accessories. We sell Ankara items and beadwork that include earrings, bangles, necklaces and bracelets,” she says.

“I’m a peer mentor, hence engage with the community and other organisations that serve the same interests as me. To those who are not infected, continue keeping all the measures to remain negative and to the positive people, there’s life after testing HIV-positive. Life doesn’t stop at that as we have drugs that ensure you live your life fully,” she advises.

“My prayer is that our organisation grows and I get to impact the lives of our beneficiaries. Recent research shows that 14 adolescents and young people are being infected with HIV every day, meaning that there’s a lot of work that we need to do to stop the new infection and achieve 95-95-95.”

They have reached five counties and aim to go to other counties and try as much as they can to save young people from the HIV scourge. “We are not fully capacitated but believe in our goals and actions to support the vulnerable and improve lives, especially those who are severely infected and affected with HIV/Aids like adolescents and young people who are unable to afford food, an environment conducive to good adherence and access to medical care. Anyone willing to work with us is welcome,” she says.