150 plus women survivor of domestic violence and from desperate situation are benefiting from the Civil Society Organizations’ Mask Project. The project was started a few weeks after the detection of first COVID-19 case in Bhutan.
The facemask that they produce is of best quality, comfortably designed and affordably priced. It can also be washed and reused to cut down on the waste. The project is of zero profit and is meant to support women.
The women contributed their first lot of 5,000 plus facemasks to the Gokha. They also supplied 50,000 facemasks to Ministry of Health (MoH). They are also taking organizational and individual orders. The women are currently stitching 150,000 facemasks. They also have an order of 200,000 facemasks from MoH.
Chairperson of SAARC Business Association of Home Based Workers (SABAH Bhutan), Phuntshok Chhoden, said that it was difficult to get facemasks from the market after detection of first COVID-19 case.
“I thought this is an opportunity for CSOs to rise up to the challenge and supplement on what the government is doing. So I thought, why not we produce facemask? Which can also help the livelihood of the women,” she said.
This is a moment when the country is panicking and the government has a lot on their plates to deal with the pandemic, she said, adding that she then immediately shared the idea with all the CSOs.
Of the 51 registered CSOs, 13 CSOs came forward including those who do not have tailoring facilities came with contributions.
“By taking up this activity, we serve a dual objective. First being CSOs’ participation to supplement the government in prevention, and second, being that we are supporting women with their livelihoods,” she said.
As for some of the challenges, they were not able to get enough cloth materials of their choice. They had to make do with whatever material they could get from the market due to the lockdown in India.
She said, “There are materials but the quality wasn’t good and material with best quality was very limited. Getting elastic was difficult, however, we managed to get some.”
The facemask is designed to be triple layered, but now they have come up with double layered masks. There are fancy designs being made for kids.
The women are paid Nu 15 per facemask and they provide all readymade pieces to be stitched together. Once they are done, they bring it to office. And before packing, they wash the facemasks, iron it and sanitize it. Some women work till midnight, she said.
Meanwhile, she said that they have managed to get a decent fund from EU, supporter of CSO development project, which Helvetas is hosting. With the fund, they are now trying to supply Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
“We are planning to produce at least 2,000 PPEs. In this term, we are planning to work in collaboration with another entrepreneur who has stock of materials,” she added.
Now that they have reached at a more comfortable level of supply, they are planning to take their samples out in the market soon. Mask is something that is needed in the future and this is one import substitution, she said.
They have also have reached out to the inmates in Dawakha and handed over 2,000 pieces to them to be stitched. They also have engaged the nuns in Olokha and Gelephu.
26-year-old Phuntsho Dema shared, “I am happy that I can make some income even during such times. Had it not been for this initiative, I would have been suffering because I am a divorcee with two kids.”
She also said that this is one initiative through which they can serve the King, country and people. She can stitch 100 facemasks in a day if she stays till 3 am.
Similarly, 29-year-old Namgay said, “I take this as an opportunity to serve my King. I have been stitching clothes for almost 8 years, and I have not felt this excited. I am happy doing this and I can earn for my family.”
We would have been staying idle at home if not for this project, she added.
The CSOs involved in the productive venture are SABAH Bhutan, Tarayana, RENEW, RTA, Draktsho, YDF, GNHCB, Bhutan Kidney Foundation, BCMD, VAST, BARC, CAB and BNEW.
Sabha Bhutan is all about tailoring and women home based worker, so thereby they have decided to make Sabha Bhutan a focal CSO to coordinate and carry out the activity.