Haitians Sewing Together to Make Masks

More than a thousand independent tailors and sewing ateliers throughout Haiti, many using foot-powered treadle machines, are being mobilized to make masks as the country responds to an announcement of 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus, which is double the number reported last week.

A member of an atelier in Gonaives sewing a mask for delivery to a nearby hospital. Photo credit: 2nd Story Goods.
Haiti’s borders are closed and a state of emergency is in place that limits gatherings to no more than ten people at a time. Given these new restrictions, and with the nation bracing for a pandemic with echoes of the devastating cholera outbreak of 2010, a consortium of NGOs and businesses has formed under the banner of “Koud Konbit.”
Loosely translated as “sewing together,” the group’s mission is to enlist the people who sew for a living to become part of the front line of emergency healthcare. This complements the efforts of the country’s clothing manufacturing sector, which has received permission from the government to opening a limited number of facilities.
Why masks? The fast growing #masks4all movement has analyzed the data for all countries that have had more than 1000 cases currently, and they have observed is that along with washing hands and social distancing, wearing protective masks by everyone, even when home-made, can help slow down the spread of the contagion. This movement started in the Czech Republic where almost all its 10 million inhabitants were equipped with masks within 3 days and the speed of the spread of coronavirus slowed significantly. Wearing masks is not done to protect the wearer, but to protect people against the droplets coming from the respiratory tract of an infected person. It should be noted, however, that the global medical community remains divided on this approach.
“We are forming a grassroots sewing army to help Haiti fight a virus,” said Magalie Noel Dresse, whose Caribbean Craft business in Port-au-Prince has been turned into a Koud Konbit production hub for masks, “and the response from the community has been tremendous.”
Koud Konbit represents the coming together of several separate initiatives that sprang up over the past week and a half. The Smallholder Farmers Alliance, with support from Timberland, had began to explore having masks made for its members. Separately, Caribbean Craft and 2nd Story Goods in Gonaives were both looking into using their respective network of artisans to sew masks.
Two things happened to transform this set of independent ideas into collective action.
First was requests from four of the largest healthcare providers in Haiti for a source of locally made fabric masks they could give to patients as well as distributing in community settings. The second involved the Scouts of Haitiannouncing their “10 Million Masks 4 Haiti Challenge.” They had already been among the first to respond to the menace of the coronavirus when they took to the streets three weeks ago with portable sinks for people to wash their hands.
The net result of these various mask initiatives and expressed needs is the announcement today of Koud Konbit.

“The Scouts of Haiti will make available a network of local tailors and groups of volunteers to make masks as a contribution to the Koud Konbit consortium,” said Scout leader Alex Georges, “We want to make washable masks available to the poorest among us, as they are also the most vulnerable.”

The first test batch of several hundred masks was completed two days ago by 2nd Story Goods. Normally focused on locally-made clothing and home fashion, they have now become a production hub for Koud Konbit.
The masks were delivered at the weekend to Partners in HealthHôpital Albert SchweitzerProject Medishare and the Caris Foundation. Together they are reviewing the mask design and providing feedback. As well, a special unit of the Government of Haiti has been set up to review all medical items being made in response to the coronavirus, and production of masks will scale up as soon as that review and approval process is complete.
The four healthcare groups mentioned above have also asked Koud Konbit to explore having staff scrubs and patient gowns made. Samples are now being produced for review and adjustment prior to starting production.
It is hard to ask for donations when people everywhere are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, but even $5 would be a big help. The first call, however, is a request for donations directly to groups operating hospitals and clinics in Haiti:
Having helped these groups, and if you feel inspired, please consider supporting the sewing of masks in Haiti with an earmarked donation for Koud Konbit to the Impact Farming Foundation:
Hugh Locke

Author: `

1 thought on “Haitians Sewing Together to Make Masks

  1. Hello Hugh!
    My name is Fabienne Goutier, RN and I work here in Haiti. I manage a hospital in Turgeau and a clinic deep in the hills of Kenscoff. It has been quite difficult passig the message of face covering, I am hoping the masks will help. How do I get the masks and how much do they cost?

Comments are closed.