Mother, 38, who overcame homelessness celebrates her third year at Bristol Uni

‘I feel whole now, university made me feel like I’m me again’

Cleopatra Kaviya turned her life around after becoming homeless with her baby daughter and struggling with depression to become a student at the University of Bristol.

Cleopatra, 38, is in her third and final year of her Anthropology BA, a course which she says she “absolutely loved” especially the opportunity to visit museums in different parts of the country during field trips.

In 2017, Cleopatra was left homeless after unexpectedly separating from her partner aged 31 while she was heavily pregnant.

She said: “I was so ill throughout my pregnancy that I couldn’t work and spent hours each day on drips. Then I found out I had to do it all on my own.

“I lost my house and had to go to the council for support because I didn’t have a roof over my head. I ended up in a single room in a mother and baby unit in Bristol. My daughter was also quite ill at this point and I got depression because I felt I’d really let her down.

“It was a bit of a horror story. Life was very trying for a while and it was all quite bleak. But life is totally different now and I am totally different too, I’m also happier now than I ever was before”.

Via The University of Bristol

When Cleopatra was growing up in Zimbabwe she wanted to go to university and become a teacher.

She moved to the UK as a teenager where her strong work ethic meant she was trusted by bosses to open new chain bakeries throughout the country and secured management positions in Bristol stores including in Lush and River Island.

Her dream of attending university dwindled as she pursued her successful career. This changed once her daughter Jahvya was born.

Cleopatra struggled to find work as she lacked qualifications so decided to embark on an Access to Higher Education Course at The City of Bristol College.

In 2019, she saw a poster advertising the University of Bristol’s Foundation in Arts and Social Sciences. This is a one-year course for adults who don’t have qualifications equivalent to A-Levels which prepares them to study for an undergraduate degree.

“I didn’t think they’d take me but they were really encouraging,” she explained. “The course also really fitted around childcare. They even let me bring my daughter in – she has come in so much over the last few years that she has become an honorary student!

“After my foundation year, I had planned to do teacher training but they said ‘you are so inquisitive about people, we think Anthropology would really nourish your soul’. I didn’t even know what Anthropology was! But I looked into it and realised it was for me”.

Cleopatra’s hard work earned her the praise of her lecturers. Professor Mhairi Gibson, Head of the University’s Anthropology & Archaeology Department, said: “Cleopatra is a real pleasure to teach, curious and creative! She brings energy and experience to the classroom”.

Via The University of Bristol

After completing her degree Cleopatra hopes to continue studying at Bristol for a Masters and intends to become a lecturer.

“I want to introduce people to the Africa that I know,” she continued “African people tend to see can be quite negative. If I could show just a few people how I see it, and maybe touch some hearts along the way, then I’d be pleased. I just like to leave people with that happy feeling”.

Alongside her studies, Cleopatra is also a governor at her daughter’s school and credits having her daughter with helping her to pursue her new life.

Cleopatra said: “My daughter really helped me. She made me come out of my comfort zone and made me want to be a better person. I hope that by following this path I can give her the life that she deserves. And the life that I deserve as well”.

Cleopatra has a message for anyone thinking about starting a degree later in life.

“If you’re ready, do it. You will find ways to be nurtured that you never knew were possible. Imposter syndrome is real, but you will look back and chuckle at how far you have come.

“It can be challenging, and it takes dedication, but once you do it you’ll feel great. I feel whole now, university made me feel like I’m me again”.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

Single on Valentine’s Day? Here are 14 activities you can do with your pals in Bristol 

Natasha Abrahart’s parents appalled at ‘inadequate’ government response to student welfare petition

Some Bristol Uni students will lose over £1600 worth of teaching due to UCU strikes