Fishermen Community Development Programme (FCDP) Kollam, is the first organisation in Kerala to produce masks as a community intervention in the wake of the COVID 19 outbreak. The women members of the fisher folk community volunteered to stitch masks free of charge while FCDP made the necessary arrangements for the same. Those who could not support by stitching masks have contributed by sponsoring the cost of the masks. A small initiative by FCDP has quickly blossomed into a large community venture and masks have been made available free of cost for those in need.
FCDP started making masks as a preventive measure during the ongoing Corona virus epidemic, as people were looking for masks frantically but there has been an absolute shortage at medical stores and even hospitals. The gravity of the situation prompted friends and well-wishers to approach FCDP to do something about the scarcity.
Before the programme commenced, FCDP looked for volunteers who would collaborate by stitching masks for free distribution. The field staff identified volunteers who could stitch masks from their homes using their own machines. The staff at the tailoring unit designed a mask that is both cheap and reusable. The cost of the mask was only Rs 3.00 (three only). Medium-priced cloth was selected and elastic tags were replaced with cloth tags to reduce the cost of the mask. The staff at the tailoring centre cut the cloth to size and prepared kits for the volunteers to stitch from home. Each kit containing materials for 50 masks was delivered to the homes of the volunteers by the FCDP staff. The team at the tailoring unit also stitched masks to meet the demand.
In the meantime, appeals were made on WhatsApp, Facebook etc. for people to support the venture either by volunteering to stitch masks free of cost or by making donations to meet the cost of the masks. A number of people came forward to support the venture both by cash and by labour. FCDP also received requests for masks from various places and institutions.
The first 100 masks were distributed to the fishermen and workers of the Fish Auctioning Centre at Port Kollam through the Theerasamrakshana Samithi. Masks were also given to those who came to the beach through the Seashore Walkers association. Masks were supplied to the employees of the railways, banks, institutions, and hospitals such as Holy Cross hospital, Kottiyam and Bishop Benziger hospital.
Even after the complete lock-down of the country was announced on 24 March 2020, the women are continuing to work overtime to meet the demand for masks. The masks are being supplied to health workers, police personnel, hospitals and other essential service providers who are in the forefront of the fight against COVID 19. The production was further increased by identifying women in the community who were equipped with power machines and who volunteered to stitch 100 masks per day.
FCDP proposed to pay Rs. 2.00 (Rupees two) per mask as remuneration to the women, incorporating it into the cost of the mask, which could be then priced at Rs. 5.00 (Rupees five only). They are also studying the possibility of buying a cutting machine which could save time in cutting the cloth. The initiative of making masks has also opened avenues for supplying affordably priced masks to institutions and persons who are in most need. This venture is also expected to open a new cottage industry among the fisher folk community especially at this point of time when the fishermen community are looking for alternative jobs to augment their little income.
FCDP is looking at creating a guild of women with tailoring skills so that they can be provided an alternative income even after this current need for face masks ends. FCDP plans to market available skills to get bulk orders in future to market cloth bags, uniforms, ladies clothes such as churidars, nighties etc. What prevents many fisherwomen now from taking up such activities is the meagre amount that they get as remuneration. But FCDP hopes that the “face mask” experience will help them realise that “small is big”.
At this juncture, it may also be noted that the fishermen from Kollam had actively participated in the rescue operations during the Kerala floods of 2018 and 2019. This time it is the women of the fishing community who are doing their part in supplying masks. BREADS takes this opportunity to appreciate all the warriors toiling day and night to fight this war against COVID 19 along with the district, state, and central governments’ efforts.
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