KAMPALA, Uganda, June 16, 2020 — Bashir Hamba studied fashion and design at a local college in Uganda’s capital Kampala. Today, he is part of a group of young people who have ventured into making face masks as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
After graduating in 2017, Hamba received tailoring equipment and three months’ rent as part of start-up capital to establish his tailoring business. This was under the Strengthening Social Cohesion and Stability in Slum Populations (SSCoS) project, which uses a socio-economic approach to building social cohesion and preventing radicalization and violent extremism.
“I have a small workshop where I make clothes for adults and children,” Hamba says. “When I learnt of the training to make masks, I immediately embraced it; so far I have sold more than 1,040 masks.”
As of 11 June, Uganda had registered more than 686 cases of COVID-19, excluding hundreds of foreign truck drivers who are immediately returned to their home countries. In March, the government put in place stringent measures to curtail the spread of the virus. Schools, churches, shopping arcades and public transport remained closed. However, on 26 May, private motorists were allowed back on the road, on the condition that they wear face masks.
The opportunity to make masks is one the youth never envisaged. As part of the SSCoS project, IOM had hired a renowned fashion designer from Kenya to mentor outstanding project-trained tailors like Hamba, in a bid to turn them into fashion designers. The training was supposed to start in March, but never took off because of the COVID-19 induced lockdown in Uganda. Instead, the trainees started learning how to make face masks from cloth.
“The trainer improvised, and has been training them through WhatsApp,” says SSCoS project manager Sahra Farah. “The trainer sent the cut-out design for a mask to be used to cut it out. The activity was initially started with 5 participants, now there are 10-12 active.”
Resty Mulungi, another of those trained in making masks and who lives just outside Bwaise, an informal settlement in Kampala, says the training included modules on branding, costing and social media marketing.
After trying out the initial designs, the trainees shared the videos and pictures of their work with the trainer.
The masks are made out of Kitenge – an African fabric – with cotton lining. Emphasis is put on hygiene, and the participants have to wear face masks whenever they are in their tailoring shops.
“After sewing, we steam-press the masks and pack them to ensure they are free of germs,” says Mulungi, an orphan who can’t hide her pride for being one of the ‘soldiers’ against COVID-19.
The youth are using social media to market their products and are happy that they are at the forefront in the fight against COVID-19 in their country.
“I feel happy that I am contributing a small portion to the fighting of Coronavirus,” Hamba says.
However, finding materials and delivering their products remain a challenge. Because public transport is prohibited, the tailors mostly use motorcycle taxis. These motorcycles are allowed to transport cargo, but they cannot ferry passengers. The restrictions may have limited mask-makers’ reach, but they have not blunted their enthusiasm.
IOM’s SSCoS project is funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) to help youth and women in informal settlements. It aims to prevent radicalization and extremism with a view to ultimately preventing irregular migration.