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The New African Woman Magazine, UK released the Most Influential African Women of the Year & Everyday Heroes list
Rasha Kelej, Merck Foundation CEO among exceptional women creating an impact in different fields that matter have been nominated and voted by their industry peers
Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation and President of “More Than a Mother” Campaign has been yet again recognized, for the fourth year, as the “Most Influential African Woman and Everyday Hero 2022” by New Africa Woman Magazine, UK, to acknowledge her efforts as a devoted Health and Girl Education champion and for her fight against infertility stigma and child marriage. The Special Edition of New African Woman puts the spotlight on African women who are creating impact in the fields that matter, leading from the front to yield tangible change, using their influence and positions to oil engines of positive change, and creating and occupying spaces that bring others along in the African Continent.
Click to visit the magazine: https://www.paperturn-view.com/uk/new-african-woman/issue-48-dec2022?pid=Mjk291026&v=1.1
Health, Education and Women Empowerment have always been topics of great concern and priority for Senator, Rasha Kelej. Over the past 10 years, her work in the field of social, health and economic development of Africa and other developing countries, has not gone unnoticed.
Under her leadership, Merck Foundation was recognized as the “2022 NGO OF THE YEAR”, the Most Influential NGO in Africa whose collective efforts greatly contribute to Shaping Africa’s Future through key sectors such as Health, Education and Economic empowerment by transforming patient care landscape, creating a culture shift, supporting girl education, empowering women, and breaking infertility stigma in Africa and beyond.
It is inarguable that Dr. Kelej is a crusader on a mission. A mission that is yielding results and her influence in the areas of health, patient care, social inclusion, girl education and the empowerment of women is therefore undeniable.
On receiving the recognition, Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej expressed, “I am honored to be recognized for the fourth year as ‘Most Influential African Woman and Everyday Hero 2022’ by New African Woman Magazine, UK to acknowledge my efforts as a devoted health and Girl education champion including the fight against infertility stigma and child marriage. It is humbling to be acknowledged for my dedication to advocate for Women Empowerment, Girl Education and Healthcare Capacity Building. Thank you all for recognizing my efforts & commitment and also Merck Foundation’s commitment towards building healthcare capacity, transforming the patient care landscape with a special focus on women’s health, empowering women & girls so that they can reach their potential and pursue their dreams. I promise to continue to empower women, support girl education, and improve patient access to quality and equitable healthcare in Africa, Asia and beyond. Congratulations to all the exceptional women who have been selected this year with me. Well deserved.”
Rasha Kelej has been successfully leading the Merck Foundation programs for the past 10 years and works closely with 20 African First Ladies as Ambassadors of Merck Foundation and other partners such as: Ministries of Health, Education, Information, Communication and Gender and also Academia, Research Institutions, Media and Art.
Health Capacity Building and Patient Access Transformation
In the realm of health, Dr Kelej is helping transform the patient care landscape in Africa through various means. “I am proud that we have provided more than 1470 scholarships to young doctors from 50 countries. Scholarships of one-year, two-year, and three-year Diploma and Master Degree in more than 32 critical and underserved specialties are provided to these doctors. We are making history in many African countries by providing training to the first specialized doctors in many fields like Fertility, Embryology, Oncology, Diabetes, Endocrinology, Respiratory and more. This is a history in the making that makes Merck Foundation an important part of Africa’s legacy,” adds Dr. Kelej.
This has led to great improvements in patient care across Africa and beyond.
More Than a Mother- Breaking Infertility Stigma
Between 2019, 2020 and 20121, Dr Kelej has deservedly been listed on various platforms as one of Africa’s Most Influential Women, for her “More Than a Mother” campaign to empower the often marginalized childless and infertile women, by educating them and their communities through access to relevant information aimed at changing deeply ingrained beliefs and helping change the mindset towards the issue.
Since 2015, she has been tirelessly working closely with more than 20 African First Ladies, who are also the Ambassadors of Merck Foundation “More Than a Mother” to destigmatize the issue. She even regularly visits communities in Africa interact directly with those affected by the scourge and offer firsthand support. As Ester from Malawi, a beneficiary tells us: “Dr. Kelej walks the talks with us. When she visited my community in Malawi, her message and support left me feeling worthy and I no longer see being childless as being abnormal. I do not have to have children to prove my worthiness as a woman, and it was through her strong message, that I learnt to accept myself. It is very uplifting. I now know I can be or do anything and no one has the right to judge me, just because I happen not to have children. I am ‘More than a Mother.”
Creating with African Media and Artists
No country can progress without the help of its media and art. Media is fundamental in ensuring that people are aware of social, economic and health developments taking place around them.
Dr. Rasha is a strong believer in the critical role that media and art play in being the voice of the voiceless and raising awareness on important and sensitive topics. So, she has been conducting Merck Foundation Media Training programs and Awards for media and other artists.
“We have so far trained over 2200 media representatives from over 35 countries, who are doing a tremendous work by helping create a culture shift through raising awareness about social and health issues like breaking infertility stigma, supporting girl education, and much more,” she says.
In partnership with the African First Ladies, she has announced 8 important Awards, under two themes, for Media, Fashion Designers, Filmmakers and Musicians/ Singers, and potential young African talents in these fields. The themes of the two categories of awards are: 1) Breaking Infertility Stigma, Support Girls’ Education, End Child Marriage, End FGM, Stopping GBV and/ or Women Empowerment at all levels and 2) promote a healthy lifestyle and raise awareness about prevention and early detection of Diabetes and Hypertension.
“Our Africa” is a unique TV Program
But that’s not all! She is currently hosting unique TV pan-African TV program “Our Africa by Merck Foundation” which she has also conceptualized, produced, and directed. The program sensitized communities about pertinent issues like sensitive social and health issues like Breaking the Infertility Stigma, Ending Child Marriage, Supporting Girl Education, Ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Stopping GBV, Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle, Diabetes Awareness and Coronavirus Health Awareness, through “Fashion and Art with Purpose” African Community, established by her in 2020. After its successful run on GH One TV (Ghana), NTV (Uganda), KTN (Kenya), AYV (Sierra Leone) and LTV (Liberia), the program is now broadcasting on prime TV channel ZNBC in Zambia. The show will also soon be broadcasted in other countries. The program also streams on her YouTube, and social media channels handles of Merck Foundation too. The program hosts fashion designers, singers and prominent guests from across Africa to discuss important subjects and address then through their creative work.
“The Art and Fashion can contribute to sensitizing our communities about critical social and health issues. With this though in mind, I came up with “Our Africa” to be our signature TV program, which is both informational and entertaining,” she says.
Education. Education. Education.
Also, at the heart of her passion and zeal, is the importance of education in any society’s quest for development. More so that of its youth, particularly marginalized girls. As such, Merck Foundation has so far supported education of 1000s of girls from 15 African countries through scholarships or school items.
Dr. Kelej explains, “At Merck Foundation, we strongly believe in education as an important factor in promoting economic well-being in Africa and as a strong strategy to stop child marriage, GBV, FGM, and STDs. Girl education is the best vaccine for HIV and is considered the best investment in the global economy. It is estimated by world reports that for every additional year of primary school, a girl’s future income increases by 10-20%.”
Her passion is therefore, to empower girls and women through various initiatives, including providing training for female and young researchers, medical graduates and supporting the education of best performing girl students across Africa.
“I strongly believe in girl education. When Girls are educated, their countries become more powerful, stronger & prosperous. I realize there’s need for more support as there are many brilliant girls out there who are struggling financially and socially to meet their educational needs. Through our ‘Educating Linda’ program we have been contributing to the future of 1000’s of girls in partnership with the African First Ladies as part of the Merck Foundation “More Than a Mother” campaign, from many African countries such as Burundi, Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Gambia, Guinea Conakry, Liberia Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. My aim is to provide an opportunity to such girls to pursue their dreams and reach their potential through access to education,” added Dr. Kelej.
But Dr. Rasha Kelej also knows the importance of the saying “catch them young” and as such, with the support of partners and African First Ladies, she has so far, released 7 inspirational children’s storybooks in English, French and Portuguese language. The storybooks are distributed to school children across Africa in both and digital formats.
Read some of the latest storybooks here:
Read ‘Ride Into The Future’ storybook here:
Read ‘Jackline’s Rescue’ storybook here:
Read ‘Not Who You Are’ storybook here:
Read ‘Sugar Free Jude’ storybook here:
The power of Song
Dr. Kelej also knows the significance and value of songs in influencing cultural changes and mindsets. She has hence created over 30 songs in English, French and Portuguese, all of which cover the issues at the heart of Merck Foundation and her passion – i.e., breaking infertility stigma, empowering women, and healthy living. Not only has she worked with African First Ladies on this, she has also notable co-opted influential figures such as The President of Liberia George Weah, The Former First Lady of Burundi, The daughter of the current President of Burundi to compose and sing songs in support of the “More Than a Mother” campaign. On the health lifestyle front, Dr. Kelej has launched the songs ‘NO more Diabetes, Sugar Free’ in English, ‘Dites non au Diabète’ in French and ‘Chega de Diabete’ in Portuguese. The songs communicate an important message that diabetes can be prevented and managed with lifestyle modifications like going sugar-free, eating healthy, exercising regularly, stopping smoking, and limiting alcohol intake.
Listen to the remix diabetes song here: https://youtu.be/1Witk3k9ykE
To Follow Senator Dr. Rasha Kelej’s journey to transform patient care and empower women and girls, Visit www.merck-foundation.com and Social Media Handles of Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Compiled by Cassien Tribunal