At the mention of fashion, what readily comes to mind is the glitz and glamour that it is associated with.
Although fashion also displays the feelings and mood of a person via who they are and what they wear, Senator Dr Rasha Kelej is changing the narrative with; Our Africa by Merck Foundation initiative.
Our Africa by Merck Foundation airs on GhOne TV on Sundays at 2pm and other channels in Kenya, Uganda and also on all social media platforms.
It is a pre-recorded television show using fashion and arts to address and raise awareness on social and health issues affecting women and children in Ghana and Africa as a whole.
Our Africa by Merck Foundation show has been running for more than three months and each episode features designers who showcase their designs with meaningful and relevant messages to break the silence and raise awareness on social and health issues.
The initiative which sees designers tell stories through colours, costumes, accessories, embroideries among others was conceptualised; produced and directed by Dr. Kelej.
In a chat with the Daily Graphic, Dr. Kelej who is a co-host of the TV show revealed the idea came to her naturally as a result of her love for fashion.
“I will say, I am a fashionista who pays great attention to style, I love to mix elegant African designs with western fashion trends.
However, as CEO of Merck Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that deals with issues affecting society, especially women. I figured I could blend the two to make an impact by empowering women and girls especially”, Dr. Kelej stated.
According to Dr. Kelej the show has so far dealt with a lot of societal issues.
“We have addressed various critical and sensitive health issues such as supporting girl education, women’s empowerment, importance of promoting a healthy lifestyle, sustainability and up-cycled fashion and coronavirus awareness among others. For us, it is about fashion and art with purpose.
“In addition, myself and other young designers from Africa hold fashion designing workshops which are televised as well,” Dr. Kelej added.
Commenting on the reviews the TV show has received so far, she noted it has been overwhelming.
“So far, feedback from viewers has been overwhelming. I am overwhelmed by the positive feedback and very happy that our efforts are reaching the right audience and opening a dialogue in a very positive, vibrant and inspiring way,” she said.
According to Dr. Kelej fashion and art have a purpose beyond just entertainment and looking good. They are powerful tools to address pressing, sensitive social and health issues in Africa and beyond.
“We must make the most out of our creativity to advocate for the causes we work towards every day. Hence, the reason I came up with the idea of this informative yet entertaining show” she said.
Dr. Kelej stated that the programme is also to reach out to the youth on how they can impact society through creativity.
“We want to reach out to the youth in the urban and rural communities across the continent who are interested and fond of fashion and art; to sensitise them on how their creativity can be used to deal with social and sensitive issues,” she noted.
Additionally, Dr. Kelej and her team recently launched Media, Fashion, Song, Film Awards aimed at encouraging creatives to take critical roles in creating a culture shift in communities.
“The award scheme is to encourage creatives develop best ways to deal with issues that borders on infertility stigma, girls’ education, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and women empowerment at all levels.
“I am glad we have the First Lady, Rebecca Akufo Addo on board. She is also an ambassador of ‘Merck Foundation More Than a Mother, a rallying call against female infertility stigma.” Dr. Kelej said.
She urged fashion designers, singers, filmmakers, media representatives, and young talents to apply for these important awards and become health and social champions of their communities.
Apart from being a television host and CEO of Merck Foundation, Dr. Kelej is a pioneer of Patientcare in Africa initiative.
Through the Merck Foundation “More than a mother” and “Educating Linda” programmes, Dr. Kelej said she aims at empowering women and girls to be the best version of themselves.
“I am very proud of establishing the first “Fashion and Art with Purpose” community in Africa to create a culture shift,” she stated.
Under the Patientcare in Africa initiative, Dr. Kelej has provided about 1300 scholarships for doctors from 44 countries to specialize in areas such as Oncology, Diabetes, Hypertension, Preventive Cardiovascular and Critical Care.
"In Ghana, together with the First Lady, we have given 100 scholarships to young Ghanaian doctors,” Dr. Kelej stated.