Rasha Kelej (center), Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare and the initiator of “Merck More than a Mother” initiative and Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament, Taita Taveta and the initiative’s Ambassador in Kenya admire potato chips cooked by Grace Kambini with an improved cooking stove provided by through ‘Empowering Berna’ Project
Stories of infertile men and women are always told in silent tones in many communities due to the perception and stigma associated with infertility. Despite the fact that infertility and seeking fertility care should be a shared responsibility of couples involved, more often than not it is the women who are left to carry the burden and bare the blame of infertility.bare the blame of infertility.
Merck More than a Mother campaign has started in 2015 in Kenya as its launch pad, with the aim to empower infertile women through access to information, education, change of mind set and economic empowerment . “The first infertile woman Merck met to enroll in their campaign was Grace Kambini “Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer of Merck said during her visit to Grace Kambini’s new shop provided by “Merck More than a Mother”www.merckmorethanamother.com.
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Grace Kambini’s story is a sad tale of sorrow, hope and resilience in the face of stigmatization and abuse by her family due to her infertility. Popularly known as “Mama Chips” the 57 year old woman residing in the sprawling Kibera Slums of Nairobi experienced an abusive marriage due to her inability to give birth.
Grace got married and stayed with her husband for nine years without them having any children. During that time she was under constant pressure, with nagging and sometimes verbal insults on why she couldn’t conceive. This made her to seek medical attention but she did not have enough money to undertake all the tests that were required.
In all her visits to the hospital, her husband never assisted her in any way. She solely catered for her medical fees. All this while it never occurred to her that she could have had a fertility problem as she was still young and naive on the need for fertility care.
She decided to move on and start a new life in Kibera, Nairobi but she did not have enough resources. She started a small grocery but was not very successful. Due to the stress and depression she was going through she became hypertensive and was later diagnosed with diabetes. Her condition now requires her to inject herself with insulin daily in order to manage the diabetes.
Grace lived alone in misery and loneliness in Kibera until Merck, the world’s oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company through its Empowering Berna Project as part of “Merck More Than a Mother’came through for her and boosted her grocery business. Her life has changed for the better as she is happy as her business is now doing well enabling her to cater for her needs. ‘Empowering Berna’ Project supports infertile women who can’t bear children anymore to establish their small business so that they can re-build their independent and happier lives.
“‘Empowering Berna’ Project has changed the lives of over 1,000 women across different countries in Africa such as Uganda, Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Ethiopia and Central African Republic and Kenya.” Rasha Kelej added
Merck has conducted an event to celebrate another milestone of their commitment to Africa and their journey to empower infertile women and change the culture that discriminate and mistreat them for their inability to have children. Merck More than a Mother is championed by Her Excellency, First lady of Central African Republic.
Dr. Belen Garijo, CEO Merck Healthcare and also the sponsor of the “Merck More than a Mother” initiative encouraging infertile women who have been empowered through ‘Empowering Berna’ in Tororo, Uganda as Rasha Kelej (2nd left), Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare and Hon. Sarah Opendi (3rd left), Minister State for Health, Uganda and the initiatives Ambassador in Uganda look on.
“Merck More than a Mother; advocates for the creation of a culture shift to destigmatize infertility and to respect and appreciate infertile women in Africa. It also raises awareness about infertility prevention and management. The initiative has done this not only in Kenya but also in other countries as the infertility problem is widespread in many societies in Africa, it is just that people shy away from having open discussions on the matter” said Belen Garijo , CEO of Merck Healthcare.
“Mama Chips” advices young women and girls to go to hospital for medical checkups to confirm their fertility status. She further emphasizes that seeking fertility care is a shared responsibility as it affects both men and women. Most importantly she encourages men to support their wives who have any fertility issue and aid them in accessing care. She wishes she had knowledge on the need for fertility care when she was younger as this would have made her explore different options and maybe that would have helped her condition, but now it’s too late as she is old.