One Handmade Mask at a Time: Kenyan Women Earn a Living During COVID-19

Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Hellen represents teams of women who produce facemasks to combat the spread of Coronavirus in Kenya’s Kilifi County.


Like in many other parts of the world, wearing a face mask while in public has become mandatory in Kenya to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Masks can be easy to find but prohibitively expensive for poor populations in rural areas and informal settlements. In Kilifi, one of the Kenya's coastal counties, patients including pregnant women could not access health care for lack of masks, preventing their access to life-saving maternal care.

To alleviate this challenge, USAID’s Afya Pwani (health in the coastal region) program trained expectant mothers from the Bomani health center on needlework. The women stitch and produce masks out of locally available cloth then sell them for KES 25 (23 U.S. cents) per piece - a cost below the market price of $3. The group also distributes masks to those who cannot afford them. In support of their effort, the Coast Rotary Club buys the masks and distributes them to other health facilities in the region.

“We make 150 masks daily,” says Hellen Mose, the group’s chairwoman. “We work in shifts, enabling breaks during work hours as well as maintaining social distancing. Wearing of masks is mandatory.” 

The support of the American people has not only empowered women to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19 but has also given them a source of income to support their families.

“I can now afford to feed my family without much worry,” she says. “I feel appreciated and acknowledged in my family." Hellen and the other group members have since used their income to set up vegetable kiosks in their neighborhood.

USAID’s Afya Pwani initiative also supports women who are taking on the role of educating fellow mothers. Topics include: the importance of seeking health care during pregnancies; the importance of healthy nutrition, hygiene, immunization, and family planning; and how to combat the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing and the wearing of masks. Afya Pwani works with communities living in Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale and Taita Taveta counties through highly engaged, community-level organizations to reach key populations that are vulnerable to infections. These community groups educate and engage a wide range of community members to reduce stigma and promote health safety, with IMA as the implementing partner.

Last updated: October 16, 2020

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