Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Silvie Binsai moved from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Kenya. In fact, Binsai first moved to Botswana before Kenya. We regret the error.
Silvie Binsai isn’t hard to spot.
She stands out with vibrant clothing from her own clothing brand, Viva La Vie. She wears a colourful choker necklace from the Maasai tribe in Kenya, where she grew up.
Binsai was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and lived there for the first five years of her life. She came from poverty. Her family didn’t even have lights in their home.
“I didn’t know it was that bad because that’s all I was used to seeing and that’s how I was raised,” she said.
Binsai’s half-sister and her husband, a Kenyan ambassador to the DRC, adopted her when she was five years old, so they could take her to Botswana, where they lived at the time. There, Binsai could receive critical health care that she could not access in the DRC.
Shortly after, the family moved to Kenya.
“[Kenya] is where I’ve had all my life experiences. I’m grateful; it’s not every day a child who’s impoverished is adopted by an ambassador and your life just changes,” she said.
Binsai said that her parents died, but she’s thankful for all they sacrificed. Her mother wanted her to come to Canada, but she died before Binsai came to St. Thomas University.
“I pray that I will make them proud,” said Binsai.
While her mother was sick with cancer, Binsai would do her makeup.
“She would just look very sick,” she said. “Sometimes she wouldn’t feel pretty.”
With her makeup done, her mother felt happier. After her mother died, Binsai did her makeup for the last time.
When she finished, she broke down.
“That’s kind of a driving factor that pushed me to want to start doing makeup on people,” said Binsai.
She has an Instagram page called Vieva Couture that features her professional makeup looks. She’s considering pursuing professional makeup artistry.
Binsai also has her own clothing line called Viva La Vie, and the style represents “Africa’s voice through fashion,” she said.
For her clothing brand, Binsai makes some pieces by hand; others are ethically sourced from vendors back home in Kenya. She wants people to understand that her clothes are for everyone.
Binsai wants more exposure for African culture. Her clothes are authentic, so people don’t have to worry about cultural appropriation, which is when someone takes ideas from another culture and uses them without acknowledging their meaning and origin.
Binsai is hoping to launch her fashion line locally.
“I hope to see people of other ethnicities wearing [my brand]. That would make me happy. That means other people are appreciating what [Africa] has to offer,” she said.
On top of her fashion and makeup work, Binsai is a human rights activist. As early as elementary school, she stood up for her friends and others when they were mistreated.
Binsai decided to study politics and human rights at STU so she could advocate for marginalized groups.
“When I came to STU, I wrote an article about the child exploitation going on in the Congo mines. When I was reading about that, I was like, ‘No, this is not right.’ So I decided to write about it,” she said.
Binsai has participated in Black Lives Matter protests. She also advocates against the persecution of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.
“It’s illegal to be LGBTQ in most African countries.” she said. “They always try to use religion to try and justify why they do such things, but the same Bible says to love your neighbour as you love yourself.”
Binsai is the African ambassador for the STU International Students Association.
She has advocated to residence life for survivors of sexual assault and for international students, as they pay more than double in tuition costs than domestic students.
Binsai is currently doing a Human Rights internship at the Madhu Verma Migrant Justice Centre, which advocates for migrant workers.
“The organization is looking to have Canada ratify the UN Convention on the rights of migrant workers and their families,” said Binsai.
“I just want to live up to my purpose. I don’t know what it is, but I see me helping people as a part of it.”