A visionary leader with a zeal to transform the lives of people in Africa, Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation, also lovingly known as ‘Mama Africa’, has been at the forefront of the Foundation to address critical social and health issues across Africa through unique and exemplary ways. And one of the exceptional ways she is using to create community awareness about these issues is creating music and video clips together with talented young African musicians.
Merck Foundation CEO: Creating a cultural shift in Africa through Music
Egypt-born Rasha Kelej believes music and art can influence us to make the problem felt, which further stimulates emotions and leads to engagement and action. “Music has the power to touch the hearts and souls of people, bind communities, and bring about a cultural shift in society,” she says.
She used her hidden talents to produce and direct around 30 songs in English, French, Portuguese and local languages, with various local African artists to address issues like breaking infertility stigma, empowering women, supporting girls’ education, ending child marriage, diabetes awareness, promoting a healthy lifestyle, and more.
It is very impressive that besides the talents from the music industry, the President of Liberia, the former First Lady of Burundi, and the daughter of the current President of Burundi have also composed and sung songs for her Merck Foundation “More than a Mother” Campaign to break the stigma around infertility and infertile women in particular.
Kelej recently launched three interesting songs in English, French and Portuguese, to raise awareness about diabetes. 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.
Creating with African Musicians
Some of the artists Kelej partnered with include Cwezi and Adina from Ghana, Wezi from Zambia, Kenneth from Uganda, Sean K from Namibia, Blaze from Mozambique, Sunita from Gambia, Tom Close from Rwanda, Suzanna Owiyo and Octopizzo from Kenya, Rozzy from Sierra Leone, Dan Lu from Malawi, Irene Logan from Liberia, Laura Beg from Mauritius – to name a few.
Another interesting song that she produced as her personal contribution to show support and appreciation for medical workers around the world during COVID-19 was ‘My White Army Song’.
It is worth appreciating that she coordinated with 11 singers across Africa to come up with this song, which was a tribute to the medical workers during COVID-19. It was for the first time that singers from 11 African countries came together in one song in three languages – English, French, and Arabic.
Merck Foundation Awards for African Talents to Raise Awareness
To encourage young talents who aspire to become singers to raise awareness through songs, Kelej has announced two song awards in partnership with African First Ladies. One is the ‘More Than a Mother’ song award for breaking the infertility stigma, supporting girls’ education, women empowerment, ending child marriage, ending FGM, and/ or stopping Gender Based Violence at all levels. And the second is the diabetes & hypertension song award to promote a healthy lifestyle and raise awareness about the prevention and early detection of diabetes and hypertension.
Not only this, but the awards have also been announced on these themes for filmmakers, fashion designers, media, and young talents in these fields.
“I invite African artists, media and young talents of Africa, to be the voice of the voiceless, break the silence. Send us your entries at [email protected],” she adds.
Creating “Our Africa” TV program to raise awareness
This multi-talented CEO has also conceptualized, produced, directed, and co-hosted a TV program “Our Africa by Merck Foundation”, a pan African TV program that features fashion designers, singers, and prominent guests from various domains with the aim to raise awareness about a wide range of social and health issues in Africa.
The show has been receiving overwhelming acclaim from its viewers and social media followers of Kelej, for its ability to use a medium like fashion and art to address sensitive social and health issues.
The show initially released on KTV in Kenya, NTV in Uganda, and GH One TV in Ghana and ZNBC in Zambia, AYV in Sierra Leone and LTV, Liberia, immediately captured the attention and hearts of millions of viewers across Africa. “Our Africa” TV program is currently on the social media handles of Kelej and Merck Foundation.
African First Ladies as Ambassadors
Over the last five years Kelej has been working closely with more than 20 African First Ladies, who are the ambassadors of Merck Foundation to build healthcare capacity, break infertility stigma, support girls’ education and more.
She has also launched 8 children’s storybooks on these issues to sensitize children from young ages in three languages, English, French and Portuguese – another unique initiative to create a culture shift.
Making history via Transforming Patient Care in Africa and beyond
Kelej spearheads Merck Foundation’s programs that have been contributing in building healthcare capacity in Africa and beyond. They provided 1470 scholarships to young doctors from 50 countries with scholarships in more than 32 critical and underserved specialties. Merck Foundation became part of Africa’s legacy as they provided training to the first specialized doctors in many fields like Fertility, Embryology, Oncology, Diabetes, Endocrinology, Respiratory and more.
“We invite all doctors from underserved communities to apply to our scholarships on our email [email protected] to fill health gaps in their communities,” Kelej emphasized. To follow the Merck Foundation mission, visit: www.merck-foundation.com and www.rasha-kelej.com.
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