Empowering Berna

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The story of Berna‘s suffering due to infertility and her life transformation after meeting “Merck More than a Mother”

Berna Amullen is a Ugandan woman who became infertile as a result of an untreated sexually transmitted disease (STD). She was diagnosed too late to be given proper treatment and she lost the hope of being a mother and leading a happy life. “Merck More than a Mother” through “Empowering Berna” has provided support for Berna to start her own business and she is now More than a Mother- proud, independent and happier. Below is Berna’s story before and after meeting “Merck More than a Mother.”

Berna hails from Otiipe village in Soroti, eastern Uganda. She says she got married at a very young age of 14 years. “I came here before I had even started menstruating, I started after three months but with a lot of difficulty. I also experienced a lot of pain during sex,” she says. According to her that is when and how her condition and story of mistreatment and rejection began.

Untreated infection and confirmed unable to conceive

She noticed a discharge and informed her husband about it and requested for money to go to hospital. He initially said he had no money but eventually she got some and went to the clinic where the health worker who suspected she had Syphilis sent her for further tests and treatment at Kumi Hospital.

However, according to Senior Nurse Hellen Namaganda who saw her at the health centre the disease was treated but Berna continued to complain of severe abdominal pain and pus like discharge. She was referred to another hospital to see a gynaecologist who ordered a scan that revealed that her tubes were blocked. She was introduced to yet another gynaecologist in the hope that she would conceive and get a child. This did not happen Nurse Namaganda says. Instead her symptoms became severe. Even the stronger antibiotics she was given to get rid of the infection did not help as it was too late, her uterus was already damaged.

The doctor ordered for another scan that showed that she had fibroids and also confirmed that she could no longer conceive even after unblocking her tubes as they blocked again.

“Berna probably grew up with the infection and reported it when it was too late because by the time she came to the health centre she had a discharge and sores on her private parts”, Nurse Namaganda adds.

Rejection, mistreatment and attempted suicide

This experience left Berna with so much agony she says. “I used to work with my husband, but he sold off all that we had acquired together so that he could marry another wife. He has rejected me and doesn’t even look at me as a human being anymore. He called for a large clan meeting and publicly disowned me. He even took away the farming fields that the elders had apportioned me. I was just left with a hut. He completely rejected me when he got his second wife. He called me that stupid, barren and hopeless woman. “She has no use here” he said.

“I was not supposed to say anything about the new wife. I was overworked and it worsened when the new wife conceived. She did not do any work at all, it was all on me,” she adds.

Berna attempted to commit suicide but her neighbours rescued her at the last moment. “I remember the day he told me it’s over. I felt so much pain and got a pesticide to take so that I could kill myself but people broke down my door, I would be dead now,” she narrates.

The children of the fellow women who got married around the same time with Berna have all grown up. “When I look at someone else’s child my heart aches,” Berna says. “If I had also given birth, I would also be well-off and my children would be helping me and they would be in school also. I am very sad but there is nothing I can do,” Berna said in agony.

Berna empowered: independent and happier

With the help of “Merck More than a Mother” through the “Empowering Berna” project Berna has been able to establish a chicken farm that has helped bring back her confidence and dignity. The society now looks at her as a woman of substance.

“I used to live under tough conditions before this project up-lifted me as a woman, I am now happy and my business is progressing well. I am lucky to have been able to begin a chicken project. I own a poultry house and chicken that I feed every day. I am very happy that this project has changed my life,” Berna proudly said.

According to Berna’s niece, Amodan Scholar, Berna is childless and was abandoned by her husband. Her work has been to take care of her co-wives children with nowhere to farm, eat or decent shelter to live in. “Her living conditions were really bad, nobody wanted to associate with her,” Amodan adds.

“Berna had given up on life before this project. She could not even afford to buy herself clothes,” says her friend Atai Joyce. “The worst is when she was sick and underwent an operation. She was helpless. Berna’s life has changed ever since this project started,” Atai attests.

Being a rejected and hopeless woman, Berna sought refuge in church where she would constantly go to pray about her situation, says Reverend Otema Patrick her pastor. “We believe this project will help not only her but other people as well,” he adds.

“When I got the support from Merck I decided to start a poultry project. I also received training on the basics of poultry farming, how to manage it and even how the chicken house should be constructed. I was also advised on the type of chicken and sizes I should keep for purposes of multiplication and for laying eggs,” Berna explains.

“I am so delighted, I used to be useless and laughed at in this community. Nobody cared about me when I was sick. I am now happy, I am strong. I have strength all over my body,” Berna says while dancing with her neighbours.

“Berna now owns a permanent house, she eats well and is better positioned as a woman of this society,” says Amodan.

“People have now started associating with Berna,” adds Atai. People are asking what she is doing with her life and how it has changed all over sudden and what benefits she will get out of this project.

“I believe her life will be much brighter in two-three years to come. She will have forgotten she is childless. Merck will have made her look like someone who has given birth to many children,” says Reverend Otema.

“I keep praying for each and every one who is part of Merck for their good work. May they continue supporting women like me. I am now in a better position in this village,” Berna concludes with a big smile.

The story of Grace’s suffering due to infertility and her life transformation after meeting “Merck More than a Mother”

Fifty-seven year old Grace Kambini popularly known as Mama Chips says she got married out of societal expectations, whereby women are expected to get married to earn respect from their communities.

After nine years in marriage she realized that she could not give birth. Both her husband and his relatives started abusing and insulting her. The abuse and insults extended to her home where she was tortured and frequently denied food for weeks at a time. Her husband did not care about her woes.

“I remember asking my husband, how long I will continue to live this misery. He replied –‘You refuse to leave my house as if your parents are dead, if they are dead you should ask them to open their grave so you may join them. You are of no use to me’. Every time I remember his insult or talk about it, I feel faint and out of breath. Due to the stress I endured I suffered hypertension and diabetes, now my life is about injecting insulin day and night,” Grace said crying.

She had no-where to go. Unfortunately, Grace has no living relatives on her mother's side and her in-laws did not seem to care about her suffering. At one point, Grace's husband even asked her to go back to her late parent's home and wake them from their graves so they could accommodate her.

Grace says that she did not have money but she soldiered on. At one point she missed her periods for a month. The following month she started bleeding excessively instead of getting her period and she was also vomiting. She decided to seek medical advice to find out what was wrong with her. The doctor advised her to go for an operation since she was pregnant and the fetus was developing in her fallopian tubes instead of the uterus.

Her husband of 10 years divorced her and she started living alone with no one to support or advise her. Life became harder with each passing day. “I still ask myself who I am in this world, is this the life I was meant to live? There is no one to love or help me, I have nowhere to go. When I travel to the village my brothers’ wives constantly insult me,” Grace said in agony.

Grace advises young couples to visit hospitals regularly and seek solutions as a couple saying: “If I was younger with the knowledge that I have now, I would have explored better fertility options to better my life, but now I am too old”.

To sustain herself, she started her own small business selling potato chips by the roadside (that is why she is called Mama Chips).

Grace empowered to stand on her own feet

“Merck More than a Mother” helped Grace to stand on her own feet by building a small local kitchen and cafeteria for her. This is part of Merck's project of “Empowering Berna” to support and train women so that they can re-build their independent and happier lives. In addition, Grace will also be enrolled with the Kenya Chamber of Commerce - Women in Business which will help her to network with other entrepreneurial women, thereby giving her a platform to generate even more business.

“My suffering and stressful life is over now I am a new person. I can now walk with my head up knowing that I have a great business that will sustain me. I am very happy with this program and I wish that Merck can continue helping many other desperate people in this world,” says Grace with a smile.

The story of Chinelo’s suffering due to infertility and her life transformation after meeting “Merck More than a Mother”

Chinelo Azodo from Nigeria is 45 years old, childless and a widow. Since getting married 13 years ago with the hope of getting children immediately and none coming, her life was been very difficult and full of ridicule and abuse from her family and community. Her attempts to get pregnant and bear children led her to take traditional medicine resulting in complications that left her unable to conceive and hence childless. “Merck More than a Mother” through “Empowering Berna” has provided support for Chinelo to start her own business and she is now More than a Mother- proud, independent and happier. Below is Chinelo’s story before and after meeting “Merck More than a Mother.”

When Chinelo got married 13 years ago she could not wait to have children. “Whenever a woman would give birth I would go visit them with a gift for the baby. I would watch closely as they changed diapers so that I could learn to do the same for my own children,” she says.

Diagnosed with fibroids

“After two years I had not conceived and I went to hospital for a medical check up where the doctor said I had fibroids. I could not afford the medication and I went to another hospital where indeed it was confirmed that I had fibroids. I also could not afford the surgery recommended. That is when I decided to try traditional medicine.. The medicine stopped my menstrual flow. I went back to the traditional clinic to report that my menstrual flow had stopped. They told me that I was pregnant. My husband was happy and after three months he gave me money for a pregnancy test and result was negative. My husband was very sad. Taking the traditional medicine caused complications. This is what hindered my ability to conceive and it is what finally crushed me,” Chinelo explains with sadness.

In a society where a woman’s worth is measured by how many children she has, Chinelo has suffered constant abuse from her family and this has made her life even more miserable. “Outsiders call me an old childless woman and mock me, asking me about who will help me in my old age, whether the goats and dogs will help me with the chores. These words really hurt me and I usually cry about such insults,” Chinelo says.

Unfortunately her husband passed on in 2015 leaving her a widow and at the mercy of her in-laws who at one time accused her of eating her children. She is at risk of being thrown out of her matrimonial home after the traditional mourning period is over since her husband is now dead and she has no children to show from her marriage.

“Now my husband is dead. What am I going to do? I dont have hope anymore and again I am a widow. How will I get pregnant? There is nothing I can do now I cant even adopt. I am a poor widow, hopeless and helpless. I am just waiting for death. I cannot even adopt a child because I have no money,“ Chinelo said amid tears.

Chinelo empowered to take good care of herself

Chinelo has been a tailor earning less than $30 per month. She had been spending her time walking around the village looking for clothes to sew.

“Merck More than a Mother”has come to Chinelo’s aid. They have helped her venture into a new business and she is now the proud owner of a restaurant. This has restored her faith and desire to continue living. She no longer feels hopeless.

Chinelo says: “Before this I used to walk around stitching peoples’ torn clothes with my sewing machine. But now with the restaurant I can now take good care of myself. People say my food is delicious, I have earned their respect because of Merck, they no longer insult me. I can now earn a better living and also save money towards adopting a child. I am a very happy woman I dance all the time.”

Evelyn Okoye, Chinelo’s very good friend says: “She has no children and her husband is now dead. Everybody felt sorry for her and her family. But now Merck has made her happy by cleaning her tears and our own tears for her too. We really thank Merck.”

Chinelo has been empowered to start a restaurant where she can be able to earn about US$ 120 per month up from the US$30 she got from providing tailoring services.

The story of Noonkipa’s suffering due to infertility and her life transformation after meeting “Merck More than a Mother”

Noonkipa Enole Mpalush, a 55 year old childless Maasai woman lives in the heart of Kenya, in a village called “Elder”. Her husband left her 15 years ago because she could not bear children. She was constantly put to blame and the finger pointed at her over the fact that she could not bear children; she was made to feel as if she was the sole problem for not being able to bear children in her marriage.

She went through very traumatic experiences during her marriage, as she did not get much support from her husband. Noonkipa tried everything, from saying prayers together with her age mates, to going to the hospital and even seeking help from traditional healers – nothing worked. Although the community and family tried to assist her, when things did not work out they began to look at her differently, even though they were supporting her.

“Being an oppressed infertile Maasai woman is the worst thing that can happen to anyone,” Noonkipa says sadly.

Noonkipa empowered to become a productive member of society

As part of the initiative to empower and train women so that they can re-build and lead independent and happier lives, Merck has provided Noonkipa with two cows to enable her to become a productive member of society. Each cow can produce six litres of milk per day. With two cows, she will be able to make around USD 6 (Ksh 600) per day.

“But now my life has changed with the help of Merck, I am happy and proud because I can support myself. Now I am more than a mother”, says Noonkipa with a beaming smile."

Jackline Mwende tells “Merck More than a Mother” her devastating story

“I was brutally slashed by my husband at my home in Masii, Machakos County, Kenya for failing to conceive after seven years of marriage...even though my husband was the one with fertility problems. He told me 'today is your last day…”

Jackline tells her story

Mwende who says she had a stable upbringing in a loving home where she grew up with six of her siblings narrates how she came to lose her both hands because of not being able to conceive.

Her parents did their best to take her to school from kindergarten up to primary school class 8. Upon completing her studies, Mwende enrolled in a tailoring school where she learnt how to sew and make garments. It was at this school that she met and fell in love with Stephen Ngila – her husband. They got married in 2011.

A year into the marriage and with no child, Mwende began to notice changes in her husband who she knew to be a ‘born-again’ Christian. “He went back to ‘darkness’ and started taking alcohol, chewing miraa (Khat) and smoking. He also started to become abusive. It was at this point that I confided in my parents, who were also wondering why I had not become pregnant yet. They advised me to leave the marriage since it was becoming abusive,” Mwende narrates.

Jackline Mwende with her parents at their home in Machakos, Kenya

“As an avid church goer, I also sought advice from my pastor,” she adds. Even at the start of the violence in the marriage, both she and Ngila would go to seek counselling from him. The pastor advised both of them to live in harmony; however, Ngila ignored. The pastor advised her to stay with her husband, of which she tried as long as she could.

Both Mwende and Ngila went to hospital for diagnosis as to why they could not get children. It was confirmed that Ngila was infertile. “The doctor however said they could try to rectify his condition and assigned him medical visits which he never honored,” a visibly distraught Mwende added. Ngila, she said, “lived in denial”.

“I constantly pleaded with Ngila to go to hospital to seek a treatment for his infertility, but he always made up excuses. He would say that he would go after work but never did,” she said sadly.

This was just the beginning of a long and a painful journey, with a man who now knew he had a health condition barring him from having children. “He even started unusual quarrels and coming home or not showing up at all,” Mwende said of her husband, a tailor based in Masii town.

Their marriage continued to get strained and the abuse increased because Mwende had not borne a child. On several occasions, the couple wound up at the police station due to their fights and arguments. The couple eventually separated and Mwende set up her own small shop from where she was getting some income to support herself and even her parents.

Mwende says she has been living alone for a year in their two bedroom brick house, which they built from hard earned savings. “We bought a plot and built a house which all along…” she poses as she attempts to wipe her watery eyes with her left elbow and continues: “We wanted to see our children play in the compound, have a family that would give us the true meaning of life and our hard work.”

However it became apparent on July 24, 2016 when she was attacked that, “all my dreams were just that,” Mwende said.

On that day in the evening, Mwende says; she was peacefully having her dinner when she heard a knock on the door. On opening the door, her husband Ngila started to attack her and cut off her left hand with a machete. In shock, Mwende collapsed on the floor while Ngila continued to hit her with the machete on her face, and cut off her other right hand.

“Today you have decided to kill me?” Mwende recalls screaming at Ngila. His intent was to kill her, but she continued screaming until her neighbors came to her rescue, but Ngila escaped. She was taken to the hospital for treatment and she is currently on medication and nursing her wounds – which will always be a constant reminder that the reason of her misery is because she never bore any children.

“You know, sometimes when people do such things, they are not in control of themselves. He could have been under the influence of alcohol. It can affect him. Nimemsamehe (I have forgiven him),” Mwende said.

“If it is God’s will that I do not have a child, I am content with this,” Mwende bravely said. She is hopeful for her future and grateful for all the support the community and Merck have given her. She would not like any other couple to go through what she has experienced and advises couples to seek solutions together if they cannot have a child, and visit the hospital for check-up regularly.

Mwende’s mother, Jane Munyoki says that her pain is still fresh and she knows her daughter’s life will never be the same. “I will never forgive that man. I want him sentenced to death. I would rather be killed than see my daughter return to that devil, she says”. She narrated the pain she continues to undergo, “seeing a daughter whom I gave out healthy, now being fed and cleaned. It hurts me a lot,” she says.

Mwende advices married couples: “Nobody should stay in an abusive relationship just to be seen to be married.”

“Through ‘Empowering Berna’ project, Merck will support Jackline Mwende throughout the rest of her life to empower and enable her to become an independent productive member in society. ‘Merck More than a Mother’ initiative will provide Mwende with a monthly income of $250, then will establish a business for her in which she will be able to generate a sustainable monthly income of not less than $250.

Hon. Joyce Lay, Member of Parliament and the ambassador of “Merck More than a Mother” in Kenya with Jackline Mwende and her parents as they receive the support from Merck

At the same time Merck will provide her with the needed physical and physiological rehabilitation to enable her to support herself and stand on her own two feet despite the challenge of her brutal disability that was caused by the stigma of infertility – even though her husband is the one who was found with the infertility problem, yet she is still the one who bore the devastating consequences of the public stigma associated with it," said Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare.

"This terrible violence Mwende suffered has emphasized the significance of ‘Merck More than a Mother’ initiative for Africa. ‘Merck More than a Mother’ will continue working closely with partners to create a culture shift and to empower infertile women economically and socially through "Empowering Berna" Project to ensure no other woman in Africa should ever go through such violence, humiliation or misery again," Kelej emphasized.

Mwende's husband has been accused of attempting to kill her and is waiting for his trial.

The story of Ijeoma’s suffering due to infertility and her life transformation after meeting "Merck More than a Mother"

Ijeoma Ezeaku, a 42 year old woman living in a rural village in Nigeria is childless despite being married for the last 15 years. Complications from two fibroid surgeries have shattered her dreams of ever bearing a child. Her husband and relatives constantly mock her for her inability to have children. She has been working as a farm labourer in people’s farms for little pay. "Merck More than a Mother" through “Empowering Berna” has provided support for Ijeoma to start her own palm oil business and she is now More than a Mother- proud, independent and happier.

Below is Ijeoma’s story before and after meeting "Merck More than a Mother".

“I got married in March 2011 and had hopes of bearing twins like my other sisters. But I didn’t get pregnant as expected”, says Ijeoma. “I am not happy at all in my marriage and we also don't have money,” she adds. As result her husband and previously her mother in-law (now deceased) have blamed her as the root cause of their problem and this has made her life very miserable.

Diagnosed with fibroids:

Ijeoma explains her painful journey in seeking to conceive and bear a child: “It was after four years of marriage that my husband and I started getting worried about our childlessness. We visited many hospitals that confirmed I had fibroids. I also visited several herbal clinics but nothing positive happened. I later became anaemic and lost a lot of weight. I went to hospital where I was advised to undergo surgery to save my life. It took my husband six weeks to clear the bill so that I could be discharged from the hospital.”

"Two months after the surgery we tried to have children again but did not succeed. I also started looking for fertility solutions. But no one ever told me that I could not get pregnant and I spent a lot of money on consultations and tests at hospitals," says Ijeoma.

Being insulted by husband and community for being infertile:

"Because of this, my husband is not happy. His attitude towards me has changed and we always quarrel about my childlessness. What hurts me most is also the way people insult me about not having children. I remember someone saying it is because of what I did in the past that caused me to be childless. Sometimes my husband also insults me about my childlessness but later consoles me because he is just desperate to be a father," a sad Ijeoma adds.

"My search for fertility treatment crippled my petty trade business. I worked in peoples’ farms as a labourer where I earned about USD 20 per month. My fellow labourers also used to insult me and make me feel very lonely. I don’t have a child… I don’t have someone to call me mummy. I don’t have anyone to eat with me except my husband," says Ijeoma with tears in her eyes.

Ijeoma explains: “Once I wanted to adopt a child but the cost and the processes and other requirements were too much. Other women have been able to adopt through the help of sponsors. But I have no one to help me. A childless woman is a human being. May be some disease or other ill health is the cause of her childlessness. I am hoping to adopt a child when I get enough money. I am still going around seeking for support to adopt a child".

Ijeoma empowered and regains respect in society:

However, Ijeoma’s sadness has been alleviated and is grateful to "Merck More Than a Mother" for empowering her. She is enjoying good returns from the palm oil business that Merck through the Empowering Berna project has helped her establish. From this business she is able to make up to USD 130 per month compared to the USD 20 she previously earned as a farm labourer. She has regained respect among other women and the society. Now she can consider adoption.

“I thank God for the palm oil business that Merck has set up for me. My life has changed. People buy a lot of my oil and I have many customers. I am happy and I sleep well at night. Since Merck empowered me I don’t work in people’s farms anymore because my own business is running very well. People now respect me, thanks to Merck. My friends and neighbours are happy with this. They appreciate Merck’s support to childless women,” Ijeoma says with happiness.

“I am no longer suffering. By God’s grace, I will save from this business so that I can adopt a child. Just as Merck has helped me in setting up this business, May Merck reach out to more childless women who are jobless and have no businesses,” concludes Ijeoma as she serves one of her many customers.

The story of Oluchi’s suffering due to infertility and her life transformation after meeting "Merck More than a Mother"

Oluchi Omenife is 42 years and has been married for 10 years with no children as yet despite her efforts to go to hospital and visit church and prayer centres for a miracle to enable her conceive. Oluchi who has been a jewellery hawker has lived a difficult life full of ridicule and abuse from her family and community for being childless. "Merck More than a Mother" through "Empowering Berna" has provided support for Oluchi to start her jewellery shop business and she is now More than a Mother- proud, independent and happier.

Below is Oluchi’s story before and after meeting "Merck More than a Mother".

"I have been married for 10 years now, but it was in the third year of my marriage that my husband and I started visiting different hospitals to find out why we were not having children. All the doctors we have visited have said we were both ok and had no fertility problem," Oluchi says.

Husband unhappy and under pressure to take another wife:

“My husband is not happy at all that after all these years of marriage and many visits to hospitals, we still do not have a child. My husband rarely stays at home,I rarely see him. He does not tell me where he is going because of my childlessness. I don’t know where my husband is right now but I know he is under pressure to take another wife. I don’t want him to take another wife because I know I will still bear children. I don’t know what to do now. I am very confused in my marriage,” Oluchi says sadly.

Harassment from family and community for being infertile:

Oluchi explains the harassment she receives from her in-laws and the community: “My in-laws constantly harass me and tell me very soon I will not have a marriage because I have failed to bear children. I know there is nothing medically wrong with my husband and I. They encourage my husband not to stay at home with me. They tell him to leave me alone. One of my sisters in-law always picks quarrels with me and tells me that I will leave my marriage empty handed since I cannot bear her brother a child. These words make me cry all the time. I rarely visit my husband’s family because I am not happy with the way they treat me. My neighbours also insult me saying that I am a man and not a woman because I am childless. I am not less of a woman. I have not lost hope.”

"Now 10 years down the line I am tired. I have been to too many churches and prayer houses looking for a miracle. I have paid so much for their special olive oil and church medicine. I am tired. I have also spent too much money at hospitals for medical examinations and tests” she elaborates.

Oluchi empowered and hope renewed:

But all is not lost. Merck More than Mother through Empowering Berna has empowered Oluchi and given her renewed hope with a new jewellery shop in her rural town. She can now hold her head up high and work hard towards making her life better. "Merck More than a Mother" will sponsor her ART treatment to help her fulfil her dreams to have a child. Stay tuned...

"The new business that Merck has set up for me has given me a new life. I am very happy about the jewellery shop. Everybody is very happy about the support. My plan is now to work hard at this business and save for IVF treatment," says Oluchi with hope.

The story of Nneka’s suffering due to infertility and her life transformation after meeting “Merck More than a Mother

In rural Africa, women often carry the burden of infertility in a marriage. For Nneka Omenife from Nigeria, this burden has brought her untold suffering. Widowed and her only child partially disabled she has suffered discrimination from her fellow women and has been stigmatized by society for being unable to bear more children. "Merck More than a Mother" through "Empowering Berna" has provided support for Nneka who has been working as a construction laborer and washing dishes at ceremonies to start her own kerosene business and she is now More than a Mother- proud, independent and happier.

Below is Nneka’s story before and after meeting "Merck More than a Mother".

“I got married in 2002 and had my only child in 2004. After two years I started getting irregular periods. I kept thinking I was pregnant but the results always came back negative. I went for a medical checkup and the doctor told me I had an infection that was causing my periods to be irregular. I started taking medication that brought back my periods but they were still very irregular. I did more tests but the infection had not cleared. We eventually ran out of money and could not continue with the treatment,” says Nneka as she narrates her painful journey.

"We were later referred to a traditional medicine centre but that too was very expensive. My husband advised me that since all options had failed we should consider adopting a child. That was his wish before he died. I did not know that my husband would die suddenly at such a young age. We wanted to adopt because my only child is partially disabled. We wanted to get her a brother and someone who can help me in my old age,” Nneka explains.

Insults from people and pressure to bear more children:

“Even before I had a child I suffered a lot of insults from people. Then I gave birth to this child and people started pressuring me to bear more children - that one child is not enough. My mum had nine children and my sisters have children. But I don’t know why my case is different. I am not too old to bear children. Despite the insults I believe I am a complete woman. I know infection and poverty contributed to my inability to conceive again,” Nneka says.

Nneka empowered and financially stable:

Through "Empowering Berna" Project Nneka now has a reason to smile again. She now owns a kerosene business that has given her financial stability that is helping her to be more independent and less of a burden to society.

"I am very grateful for the business Merck has set up for me. I am very excited about it. God will open doors for the expansion of this business. I am now doing well in this business and I no longer wash dishes at ceremonies or carry blocks at construction sites.

Udenze Ginika, Nneka’s niece says she is very grateful for this project for empowering women and giving them respect. “Since Merck set up this business for Nneka everything has taken shape,” she says. I have advised her to save from the business and not sell her kerosene on credit so that she can buy a second tank,” says Ginika.

“With this business Merck has set up for me I will now move on with my life. My daughter and I will now eat well and also save for other needs. My family is happy I will now take good care of myself with this business,” Nneka says with confidence.