COVID-19 awareness in Malawi, and the importance of washable face masks

Hand-washing as one of the means of preventing the spread of COVID-19 was explained and demonstrated to CITW Malawi Eco-Club children and YES Club youth during May of this year. Led by a health worker based in the community, together with the Eco-Club teachers, they placed great emphasis on the importance of hand-washing at all times.

As at August, the children and the youth are demonstrating that hand washing is now part of their day to day life. Any time they meet for their Eco-Club activities, the first thing they do is to run to their Tippy Tap and wash their hands. Before they leave the meeting place, they run back to the Tippy Tap and wash their hands again.

Their next lesson after hand-washing is the importance of wearing a face mask. In June and July this year, local Government officials and other social organisations distributed face masks to a good number of people in the communities. Most of the masks were disposable. A few days later, the masks started appearing as an environmental issue, with the masks being seen in village rubbish pits. Little children could also be seen picking up and wearing the discarded masks back to their homes.

The need to have reusable, washable facemasks for all was quickly identified. When Eco-Club teachers raised the concern, CITW readily supported the idea of washable face masks for all.

Our project “Come and make your own face mask” was launched on the 7th of August at Nanthomba Primary School for the Southern (Liwonde) Zone. The launch included training Eco-Mentors (teachers) in basic skills to design and sew facemasks. Mrs Mapunda, a trained needlework teacher from Nanthomba Primary School, led the training session.

From the first session, trainers realised that cutting out the design and sewing a face mask took over two hours. Some teachers suggested that it was too much time for the parents (mothers) to spend on making a face mask. A request to use a sewing machine to finish the work was made, as many more people from the villages would be coming for masks. The Nanthomba Primary School Head Teacher agreed to release one of their sewing machines to help reduce the mask production time.

Teacher training was followed by a mothers’ session. A few mothers were invited to the launch event as they need the face masks the most. The rules of the local health centre include “No facemask, no access to any health service”. If a mother does not have a mask, she cannot even enter the health centre, and is not allowed any medical attention.

Ten mothers were invited for the launch event, and each of them went home with their own face mask.

The idea is that on a fixed day, or days, the mothers, or any other applicable persons, from the community can come to the centre and choose their own design from the available list of face masks.

Mrs Mapunda, or any available Eco-Mentor (teacher), will be on standby to help them cut out the pattern, help them make some primary stiches, and finally finish the mask on a sewing machine. The whole process should take just some 40 minutes.

After the mothers’ session, it was the turn of YES Club members, followed by Eco-Club members.

Heartfelt thanks go to Ian Strange and his wife Paddy of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire in the UK. Part of their donation has made it possible for CITW Malawi to buy the fabric and other tools needed to launch this life-changing project.

CITW Malawi would like to propose this idea to any other well-wishers who are interested in supporting and donating to the face mask project, to ensure they reach as many people as possible, as the active cases of COVID-19 are still rising.

By Symon Chibaka, Children in the Wilderness Malawi Programme Co-ordinator

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