Refugee Tailors making facemasks to prevent spread of Covid-19

By James Chanwat 


Communities in Uganda are abiding by the stay home directives and wearing of facemask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease, covid-19.

In Rhino (Kiryandongo) and Palabek refugee settlements and its host communities, when government announced lockdown in March 2020, it took young people by surprise. 

Few people could access facemasks.

However, some refugees saw this as an opportunity and began to make face masks for business. 

Facemask has become part of our new normal.

Mr. David Okello, 40, is a South Sudanese refugee tailor living in Kiryandongo refugee settlement. He lives with his family of five in cluster G. 

Mr David Okello makes clothe facemasks which he cheaply sells to his community to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease

In this lockdown, Okello is tailoring facemasks which he sells to refugees and the host communities in Kiryandongo.

In 2015, Okello was trained in tailoring by Real Medicine Foundation (RMF) an organization which was offering vocational training in the settlement. After the course he was given a new sewing machine. 

“I have been using the machine given to me for a period of two years but it got spoiled and now I am hiring a machine from a friend and I am paying him Shs15, 000 per month. Before the lockdown I used to get over Shs 300,000 per month but now it has reduced to only Shs120, 000 per month. Since facemasks are on high demand, I started making them and selling them to my fellow refugees at cheaper cost,” Mr Okello told Refugee Media and Online News on Monday.

He added that; “I sell each facemask at Shs1, 000 and if someone is buying many I reduce the price to Shs500. But even if I sell to them at a cheaper price, they still complain that I am very expensive and some people come and borrow and pay it later because buying facemasks is a challenge to many vulnerable families. The money I get from selling this facemask is helping feed my family.”

Mr. Okello wishes he could have materials to make face masks to help his community keep safe from covid-1. At the moment, his interest is on the safety of people even when he does not make much money from his work. 

“If there was a way for me to get materials, I would make more facemasks and supply them to my community members at Shs500 so that covid19 is prevented from further spreading in my community. My contact is 07707187966,” Mr Said. 

Ms Lilly Ayoo, 28, is a South Sudanese living in Kiryandongo settlement. She attended the tailoring training in 2010 but she did not get a sewing machine.

Ms Ayoo says making clothe facemasks has become a source of income for her.

“My husband bought for me a (sewing) machine. I started working from the settlement but the customers were not there. I shifted my machine to Bweyale Town where I am working from now. Before the lockdown money was there but things are very hard. When they said that putting on facemask is a must, it was again an opportunity for me. I make facemasks in the morning by evening, very few remain. My place is just at the market since most refugees know me, they come for facemasks which I sell at Shs1000. I don’t refuse money. Sometimes they come with only five hundred shillings and I still give them the facemasks,” an excited Ms Ayoo said on Friday. 

For Ms. Faith Atim, 26, a Ugandan staying in Bweyale Town Council making facemasks and selling to the refugee and host communities has supplemented on her income from other sales. She gained her tailoring skills from Blessed Hand Vocational Institute.

Ms Faith Atim is mentoring young girls and women on tailoring as a business and making clothe facemasks to keep their community safe from coronavirus disease.

Ms Atim owns “Faye Made Fashion and Design.” She attended a training in basic business skills and entrepreneurship in Whitaker Learning Center with refugees. 

Atim is ow a trainer and is mentoring many refugees in tailoring as a business skills. 

During the coronavirus lockdown, the number of people needing her service increased but because she does not have enough machines to train them, she decided to train them how to use hand needles and threads to saw facemasks. 

Some of the girls she trained are now able to make facemasks for themselves and their families saying some of them cannot afford buying facemasks.

Facemasks distribution in Uganda has been low.  Communities have now found innovative ways to make their own clothe facemasks while following the guidelines given by the Ministry of Health to prevent droplets from entering or getting out of one’s nose and mouth as a way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease that spreads through droplets from an infected person within two meters. 

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