Young women making face masks

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID 19 as a global pandemic in March 2020 and called upon all countries to develop comprehensive strategies for the prevention of infections, lifesaving, and minimization of the COVID 19 impact.  In response to the call to action by the WHO, in the same month (March 2020), the Government of the Republic of Uganda ordered an immediate shutdown of the non-essential services, the prohibition of public and private transportation, closure of schools, borders and put an embargo on public gatherings with an emphasis on “Stay Home”.

The Government of the Republic of Uganda through the Ministry of Health (MoH) came up with practical preventive methods of COVID 19. These include avoiding close contact with people who have flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sneezing); avoid touching the nose, mouth, and eyes with unwashed hands; wash hands well with soap and water or use a sanitizer; stay home when you experience any of the symptoms to avoid spreading it to others; covering nose and mouth with a face mask to avoid acquiring or spreading infections; covering mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and ensuring that used tissue is properly disposed of in a dust bin followed by washing hands thoroughly with soap and water.  

In order to support the government’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID 19, “MoTIV” a catalytic maker-space for the creative economy launched the “Call for Heroes” to manufacture facemasks that are sold to the public at a subsidized price as a key preventive method for the prevention and spread of COVID 19. MoTIV is located in Bugolobi, one of the Kampala city suburbs, in an industrial area with 5,000sqms of space shared into 6 warehouses. Besides making face masks, MoTIV supports young multidisciplinary artisans who produce furniture, electrical and mechanical products, training in preparing beverages, fabrics, leather products like belts and shoes, broadcasting services in-country, and later for export utilization. The aim of supporting young creative minds is to increase industry employment opportunities through dynamic market-relevant skilling and linkages. So far, this work has been made possible with support from the Mastercard Foundation under their Young Africa Works strategy that seeks to create 3 million jobs for young Ugandans by 2030.

To achieve the desire of making face masks, a total of 125 young women responded to the “Call for Heroes”, their tailoring skills were assessed and all were inducted on the process and specifications of making face masks. The young women were brought together at one working place and provided with sewing machines, raw materials, meals, transport stipend and a bi-weekly wage.

At MoTIV, quality control is continuously done during the production of the masks. After the production of the masks, there are workers in-charge of checking and ensuring that only quality face masks go to the market. The produced face masks are branded according to the interests of the customers and are stored in a safe gazette location at MoTIV. Each face mask is sealed in a transparent package to maintain safety and cleanliness. 

The produced face masks that are intended for the open   market are advertised online, using a MoTIV marketplace website. Customers order online and deliveries are made by dedicated Boda Boda riders, creating another work opportunity for the young people. Targets are set for each of the tailors on a daily basis and all work hard to achieve the expected outputs. 

On a daily basis, 1,080 face masks have been produced since April 2020 and tailors work on a daily basis from Monday to Friday. Since inception, MoTIV has produced and supplied over 25,000 masks sold at 10,000/= with the provision of space for inserting a filter for VIP and ordinary face masks at 2000/=, which is a huge contribution to COVID prevention in the country. The supply of these face masks is done around Kampala and its surrounding districts.  It is worth celebrating the 125 young women as heroes in the fight against COVID 19. During the tight lockdown, even when it was impossible for the young women to travel to MoTIV for work, twenty-one (21) of them who owned tailoring machines started making face masks from their different homes. This implies that even when there was lock down of non essential services, opportunity to work, to be creative, to earn a living, to contribute towards Covid 19 prevention did not lock down for the determined young women.   

These heroes came out and took action to produce masks as one of the recommended preventive measures, when the rest of the country was overwhelmed with tension, panic, emotional confusion, stress, anxiety, sadness, despair, grief and fear of getting infected with COVID 19, yet at the same time, face masks were expensive and in short supply. All the young women were provided with free face masks for themselves and their families for the prevention of getting infected and spreading infections. These young women remain committed to quality results and targets. They have weathered constraints especially difficulties in getting transport owing to COVID 19 related restrictions, curfew time, and the burden of care work which is normally shouldered by women.  In fact, before they were supported with transport refund, or even when they totally failed to get public transport, many of them resorted to walking to and from work.  

The young women have themselves benefited in relation to employment and earning daily income which has helped them to meet their individual and family needs as some of the them explained; 

My experience has been good, I have learned a lot, I have made many friends and also gotten creative ideas. I came here while only knowing how to use one machine, the traditional sewing machine, but at MoTIV, I have been introduced to new machines like the one for overlock and the cutter. At my workshop I was used to cutting clothes with scissors but now I can use different machines for cutting. Because I have learned to use these machines, it has given me Motivation to buy mine, I will be able to use them. When I buy those machines, the work at my shop will be done faster for clients, if a customer comes and they want 10 dresses, I usually spend 2 days cutting the fabric, but with the machines I can spend only a day on that task. If I hadn’t worked at MoTIV, it wouldn’t be an easy life. Before this, I was working for someone in an arcade and you know that they are currently closed but here I am with something to do. The money I earn is helping me pay for my rent, prior to lockdown I was behind on rent for 3 months but I have paid off two so far and I am left with one month now to pay off. Since my transport and lunch money are reimbursed, I am going to be able to save this money and open up a workshop for bridal clothes and kids wear because I feel that is what I want in my heart. Every day there is a wedding and yet one gown would bring back all your profits because they rent most of the gowns. I will not remain the same, my dream is to be among the top designers in this country, I want to be able to buy land, build a home so I can leave the renting life. I am happy that I am doing these masks for my country because if we weren’t producing them, they would be getting them from abroad but now we are making them from home (Vivian, Supervisor).

“I am now relieved that I got this kind of work. My shop had closed in Nasana and I was not sure of what I was going to do and how I was going to provide for my four-year-old child. The experience has been very good at MoTIV. I get paid, the last time you came here, I didn’t have a smartphone but right now I have a smartphone. It is going to help me connect easily with my clients. I also finally installed mirrors in my workshop back in Nansana, it has improved in such a way that my clients will now be able to see themselves well when they try on clothes. My mom also stopped working during lockdown so I have been helping out, paying loans and buying food at home. I am a single mother too, and when I save this money that I am earning from MoTIV, it is going to help me do something for my son, I will even be able to take my child to a better school after this lockdown given that now I have a stable source of income”.  I will buy land that my son will inherit. Because I gave birth while young at 19, I plan to provide some free training to teenage single mothers when my workshop is doing well so that they can have something with which they can support themselves and their children (Winnie, Tailor).

Due to the production of quality face masks, the demand for them has been growing day by day with some of the clients placing orders in large quantities. Through this, MoTIV has contributed to women empowerment. The narratives of these young women also clearly indicate how they have positively contributed to the wellbeing of their families making them double heroes and deserving to be celebrated.

All this work has been made possible with support from the Mastercard Foundation under their Young Africa Works strategy that seeks to create 3 million jobs for young Ugandans by 2030.

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