- At Gulmeher, 20 women stitch variety of cloth based face masks
- Face masks by women of Gulmeher are made of cotton cloth and reusable
- In almost 2 months, around 60,000 masks have been produced
New Delhi: It’s 2 PM, 27-year-old Shabana has just finished her lunch and is getting back to stitching a variety of face masks. On a regular day, Shabana would play with flower waste and upcycle it into beautiful paintings, portraits, posters and other items. But with the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus, neither is Shabana able to go out to collect flower waste nor is she finding many buyers for her creativity. Similar is the story of 19 other women employed at Delhi based NGO Gulmeher who usually make eco-friendly products using the waste collected from the Ghazipur landfill and the nearby flower market. To continue working during Coronavirus and earn a livelihood, these women have started stitching reusable cloth masks.
The outbreak of Novel Coronavirus invited a nationwide lockdown which in turn had a substantial impact on the lives of thousands of citizens and a larger effect on the nation’s economy. There was no way Gulmeher would lay off women waste-pickers’ turned into artisans and leave them stranded in these tough times. Hence, the NGO decided to switch to stitching cloth masks, one of the tools to protect oneself from contracting the COVID-19 and provide a source of livelihood to these women. Talking about the switch, Anurag, a mentor at Delhi based NGO Gulmeher and Director at Shakti Foundation said,
Women at Gulmeher work with waste and upcycle both dry waste including cardboard, paper and wet waste such as discarded flowers, vegetable waste, among others into fancy items like calendars, gift boxes, diaries, file covers, rakhis, posters to name a few. On the other hand, we had started a stitching unit a couple of years ago, but about six to eight months ago we had given it a break because we were unable to grab the market. The products these women have been making using waste for years are not something people will buy during a pandemic or at least for the next few months. They are more want and desire oriented products. So, we decided to switch to stitching cloth masks which are also essential. Eventually, the intention is to provide employment opportunities to waste pickers be it by the means of upcycling, stitching or anything.
With the idea to continue providing employment to waste pickers, in mid-April Gulmeher decided to dedicate itself to stitching cloth masks. Women were trained to stitch a variety of masks – pleated, contour – both with and without the option of adding filter. All masks are priced between Rs. 25 to Rs. 60 per piece and are available on the official website of Gulmeher. In order to tap the B2B (business to business) market, the team is now planning to put up their products on e-commerce websites.
Further talking about whether the team is resorting to the idea of upcycling and waste management while stitching these masks and making use of old cloth, Mr Kashyap said,
Masks are supposed to be hygienic and therefore, they can’t be made from scrap cloth. We have purchased fresh length of cloth for these masks.
Together, on average, the group produces around 2,000 masks, daily and as of now, 60,000 masks have been produced. Of this, 20,000 masks were given to East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) to distribute it among their frontline warriors – sanitation workers, public health officials and others. Also, a little over 30,000 masks have been sold.
Talking about the change in her work, Shabana said,
Earlier I used to work in a different unit where I would treat flower waste. Now our supervisor taught us to stitch masks and on average I stitch 150 masks daily. The work has indeed changed but there has not been any alteration in my monthly income.
Are Cloth Masks Safe To Fight Against COVID-19?
According to the advisory issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with regard to the homemade protective cover for face and mouth, to protect the community at large, people who are not suffering from medical conditions or having breathing difficulties may use the handmade reusable face cover, especially while venturing out.
US top medical body CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) also recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. The CDC says that cloth face coverings are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies and must be reserved for healthcare workers.
According to Gulmeher, their cloth masks are non-surgical, washable and reusable and completely safe to use. Elaborating on the same, Mr Kashyap said,
Washable cloth masks are environmentally better, as they can be washed and reused, rather than disposable plastic masks, whose disposal is likely to cause huge environmental issues. The production of these masks is providing wages to green workers.