Dr Rasha Kelej, one of 100 most influential Africans empowering women to be more than mothers

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Dr Rasha Kelej the CEO of Merck Foundation made it to the list of 100 most influential Africans 2019 by New African Magazine for empowering many women through Merck More Than a Mother campaign.

In an interview with The Nation Magazine, Dr Rasha Kelej explains their approach and plans going forward.

Dr Rasha Kelej, please tell us how do you feel to be listed amongst the 100 most influential Africans?

I am very proud to be listed among the 100 most Influential Africans in 2019. This recognition is very important for me and for Merck Foundation as it acknowledges my efforts, my team’ s efforts through our Merck More Than a Mother and acknowledges it as a huge Movement. It is a historic campaign. We succeeded to mobilize and work closely with African First Ladies and Ministries of Health, Gender, Information and Education, media, Art, fashion, community leaders and scientists to empower infertile women through information, health and change of mindset.

We also worked with local singers, film-makers, media partners and fashion designers to be able to raise awareness to break the stigma of infertility. Through these initiatives we wish to sensitize our communities that Women are more than Just Mothers and Men are more than Just Fathers. Also, it takes both a man and a woman to have a child.

We have produced and launched more than 20 songs with famous singers from Burundi, Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Gambia to raise awareness about male infertility and to break the Stigma around Infertility in Africa. Moreover, it is also an honour for us to have the First Lady of Burundi, H. E. First Lady of Burundi and The President of Liberia, H.E. George Weah do their own songs for our campaign. This shows their commitment towards our campaign.

We also launched children story in African countries. The story has been localized and launched in the elementary level school of many African countries with message from their respective First Lady, as ambassadors of Merck more than a Mother and special message from me in English, French and Portuguese. And local names and narratives have been adapted for each country.

Merck Foundation’s children storybook emphasizes on strong family values of love and respect from young age which will reflect on eliminating the stigma of infertility and resulted domestic violence in the future.

Tell us about the work you have been doing in Rwanda?

Merck Foundation in partnership with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health has provided support to establish the first public IVF Center in the Military Hospital through providing 5 candidates with Embryology and clinical training on fertility. Merck Foundation has also trained 4 doctors in Oncology specialty, 7 in diabetes care and 2 in hypertension management. We will continue to train more doctors from Rwanda.

Moreover, we have worked very closely with Tom Close, a famous singer from Rwanda to develop and produce a special song to address the stigma attached to infertility. The song communicates an important message to the society that not only women, but men too can be the cause of infertility. It also speaks about the stigma attached to infertility, articulates that life is bigger than having children and delivers Merck Foundation’s key message that a woman is more than a mother and men are more than just fathers.

We also plan to initiate the ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ Fashion awards in Rwanda very soon.

 What new initiatives should we expect from Merck Foundation this year?

This year, we are going to focus on Merck More Than a Mother’s twin campaign – Merck More Than a Father. We need to reach out to the society to stop putting pressure on men to become fathers. As, this pressure and stress leads to violence towards their women. The theme of all our initiatives in 2020 will emphasise on Merck More Than a Father. Also, this year, we intend to partner with more African countries to be more inclusive in our approach.

Another important initiative that we have just launched is “The Merck Foundation sustainability Initiative”. We strongly believe that young people have numerous untapped capabilities. We wish to unleash such capabilities which would empower and enable them to lead the sustainable development and Green Environmental Agenda of their countries and to encourage others to lead a cool sustainable lifestyle in order to adapt to the impact of climate change. The aim of this Initiative is to educate, engage and empower youth and young entrepreneurs through access to information and change of mindset in order to enrich their understanding of sustainability as well as support their new innovative and creative ideas in the sustainability space.

 What is your message to young women you aspire to make a change is society just as you are doing?

My message to all young women out there is: Believe in yourself, work hard and never allow anyone to let you down. Put your heart, mind and soul in everything you do, this is the recipe of success. And when you make it, do not forget to support other women, remember it will be your turn.

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