Who would have thought people would be worrying about face masks? But for many of the people we work with it is a serious concern. Imagine for a moment being a young child in poverty; life is extremely hard without the added confusion and challenge of COVID-19. You may have lost a parent, or both, you have no food to come home to and you might be looking after yourself and your siblings during yet another unsettling time in your life. Your only joy, and time for you, is to go to school and try and get the best education possible to help you have a better future. However, you are at risk of losing your place at school, failing your exams, and losing your education, all because you don’t have a mask. The governments are insisting the children wear face masks in order to attend school, but they are not able to provide them, leaving many children stuck at home. You have no money for food, let alone a mask, so what do you do?

We started thinking how Smile could make a difference, help the countries we support to return to some form of normality and make masks freely available for people who desperately need them. Instead of giving money to a supplier at a higher cost and usually a lower quality mask using poor material, we thought we would cut out the ‘middle’ person and use this opportunity to further empower people by making reusable masks ourselves. We simply do not have enough money for the constant use of disposable masks, nor do we want to add to the problem that the use of disposable plastic has on the environment.

Through our Empowering programmes in India, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, we are fortunate enough to have tailoring equipment and, over the years, we have empowered and trained up tailors who are able to work on this new project. We are therefore able to make sure that the overall quality is higher; we are able to choose higher quality materials to use, and in some countries the mask design our tailors are using has been approved by the Ministry of Health. This way we continue to empower, give local support by helping to provide an income to those making them and also use it as a way of further helping to educate people on COVID and hygiene factors. We see it as part of our responsibility as Smile to help stop the spread and by using our local teams in the country to help facilitate this.

We started this project a few months after the pandemic started and it has been ongoing despite the different countries being in and out of lockdown, which has had an impact, but we are so pleased that we have made over 3,000 masks so far.

Once we make the reusable masks, we distribute these free of charge in the areas where we work, because many people are unable to afford masks. This project is proving to be a lifeline for so many, as it not only helps to empower our tailors by providing them with much-needed work and income but allows children to return to school and take their exams without choosing between food, in order to survive, or buying a mask. This at least offers some form of protection against COVID-19.

As this is an ongoing project, we urgently need to make another 7,000 masks to get more children back into school and one of our biggest needs is your financial support towards this project. This really will make a huge difference so that we can buy the materials, resources and equipment that is needed. To make the masks we need the material, which we buy on the ground in each of the countries, to help support the local economy. We also need to buy more sewing machines which are £200 each which will help increase production.

There are also long-term, sustainable benefits to more sewing machines and financial support as the tailors can also produce school uniforms, aprons and other clothing items in the future, which can then be sold at the markets as part of our micro-financing projects. This then helps them to receive an income to provide for their families. So, while we’re working on the short-term solving a current need during this crisis, there is scope for much broader possibilities which we’re really excited about.

If you would like to donate towards this project, then please feel free to do so by following the link below.

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