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Young Innovators: Making Re-usable Face Masks to Help Vulnerable Communities Fight COVID-19

Around the world, the one piece of personal protective gear we have seen many commercial companies make throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is the face mask.

In Lusaka and Solwezi Districts of Zambia, the latest to join in making the masks for community-level prevention efforts are 13 female youths aged between 18 and 21, who acquired life-skills in tailoring and fashion design, as part of on-going youth-empowerment programmes by the Young Women Christian Association of Zambia (YWCA) with support from UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Over the last 2 weeks, the young tailors based in Lusaka have sewed and donated over 500 masks to vulnerable young people in high-density communities of Lusaka, who cannot afford to buy masks, following Government directive on mandatory use of face masks for all citizens, as part of in-country prevention measures.

“As a community-focused civil society organization, we understand the value of ensuring that communities stay protected during the COVID-19 pandemic and that everyone adheres to standards and regulations prescribed by the Government of Zambia. However, it is also understood that not all communities are able to access or afford disposable masks and other personal protective items. This is why YWCA, with support from UNFPA in Zambia, has facilitated the training of female youths in tailoring and fashion design, as part of our life-skills programmes for young people. These young people are now utilising the skills obtained to help communities, especially other young people, to fight the spread of COVID-19 by making re-usable face masks”  - says Ms Patricia Ndhlovu, Executive Director of YWCA Zambia.

The face-masks are made from local chitenge fabric (colourful African pieces of fabric, often worn by women or used as a baby sling) and are washable and re-usable without reducing their effectiveness. Through this process, the young tailors aim to raise awareness around the importance of wearing masks for prevention of COVID-19 in their communities. In addition to the 13 young people trained in Lusaka and Solwezi Districts, plans are underway to train more young people in other Districts.

"As a young person, I know I can play an important role in helping stop the spread of the virus in my community. I feel good that I am able to sew re-usable masks because many poor people, especially my fellow young people in communities do not have enough money to buy the disposable masks. The little they have usually goes towards buying food for their families. I am therefore very happy to contribute in helping save lives” – says 19 year old Maria Bulongo.

UNFPA, as part of the UN system joint response in Zambia, continues to support Government and partners to address health and protection emergency needs related to COVID-19. This includes exploring innovative ways to effectively reach and engage young people with targeted messages and services, acknowledging that young people represent a valuable resource and network during crises.