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Masking against the unknown

When the first cases of coronavirus hit the world in China in November last year, nobody was sure what they were looking at. Some thought that this disease, like any other similar ones before it, would pass maybe as quickly as it had appeared. It was not to be. It turns out that COVID-19 was a different type of a previously unknown pandemic and in the next couple of months, after people across Europe and China started dying in multitudes, reality began sinking in. This disease was here to stay.

What followed was a calamity – economies halted, jobs were lost, families lost loved ones, hospitals were suddenly overwhelmed with thousands of covid cases, the world was brought to its knees. Wealthy countries struggled to keep the strange deadly virus at bay as thousands lost their lives. Rich nations had no idea how to tame this mysterious beast which had reared its ugly head out of nowhere.

Five months later in April when the disease was confirmed in Malawi, panic settled in. While preventing the spread of the virus seemed as simple as observing social distance, regularly washing hands with hand sanitizer and – most importantly, using face masks, lots of Malawians who live below the poverty margin can hardly afford all this. The worst part was that the advent of the disease resulted in a scramble for face masks (the most vital tool in the fight against covid-19) which in turn caused a sharp rise in the prices of these goods. Overnight, the prices of face masks in pharmacies and leading medical outlets tripled, further putting the average Malawian, who could not afford the original price in the first place, at a high risk of COVID-19.

Indeed, self-isolation and quarantine are among the effective measures of decreasing the spread of the coronavirus but face masks also greatly contribute to the fight against the virus. Without face masks, vulnerable communities – those who live in the remote areas of the country, including refugees – who have zero chances of supporting themselves, were in grave danger. As There is Hope that was our main fear. We were worried sick. We feared for the poor communities we work with. We feared for the several graduates, beneficiaries and students that we have trained for many years. We feared that if they are not protected, their lives and indeed the years of investments we have put were all but a waste.

A quick, decisive and inclusive strategy was needed to prepare and shield these groups from the jaws of COVID-19. We needed to find a way of contributing to the fight against a potential disaster and contributing to the national response to coronavirus.

For us, production of fabric face masks was a feasible option. More so, because we have a social enterprise, Kibebe, which has a creative team of multicultural and experienced tailors (artisans) who can ably make quality face masks. So, through Kibebe, we made plans to respond to the need of face masks but we needed financial assistance. When we expressed the idea and the urgency to Cricket Barrazotto of God’s Economy, our long-term donor, partner and friend, God’s Economy quickly supported us. Cricket had been following the events in Malawi and she, too, shared our deep concern about the plight of the vulnerable people who have no means of parrying COVID-19.

With God’s Economy generous financial contribution, Kibebe hit the ground running and launched the production of face masks. Kibebe hired additional artisans to accelerate production and the best part is that most of these are graduates of tailoring from our vocational training programme. It was like our own COVID-19 task force. Kibebe’s production of face masks brought about two-fold benefits; firstly, the hiring of the artisans gave these men and women a chance to earn a living – an income which they will use to buy sanitation facilities necessary to protect themselves and their loved ones against coronavirus infections. Secondly, boosting the production of face masks gave Kibebe an opportunity to supply adequate masks to vulnerable communities.

Through God’s Economy donation, Kibebe will provide thousands of face masks for free to underprivileged refugees and Malawians, giving them a fighting chance against coronavirus.

In mid-April, the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany Lilongwe joined us to scale up the production line of our face masks to reach even more people. The Embassy awarded us a small grant which powered Kibebe to procure 45 extra sewing machines and recruit 60 more tailors to our artisans team. The donations from God’s Economy and Germany Embassy provided us a fighting spirit and ensured that we serve more poor families.

With their support, we have managed to provide jobs to 90 people, supplied more than 4,000 free masks to vulnerable communities and are able to make 1,000 masks per day.

This is not the end. COVID-19 continues raging on and so does our battle through Kibebe. You can join our cause by donating through