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Fighting COVID-19 through mask-making


Volunteers are ironing materials to make cloth masks.

The COVID-19 pandemic affecting millions globally is a virus that attacks the human respiratory system and has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

As a company employing over 170,000 employees in Indonesia, Sinar Mas Agribusiness and Food responded quickly by implementing new measures and procedures to ensure the safety of all our workers.

One of our initiatives, in collaboration with humanitarian aid organisation Tzu Chi Indonesia, has been to make and provide reusable cloth masks for employees and communities in the field. Leading this project is the women’s branch of Tzu Chi Indonesia called Dhawa (Dharma Wanita), and many of the members are wives of our employees.

The target – 30,000 handmade reusable cloth masks to be distributed not just to employees, but also to people living around our area of operations. Not easy, but our Dhawa groups in Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Papua were up for the challenge.

Making cloth masks for personal protection requires motivation, skills, tenacity, and time. Whilst still going about their daily activities, taking care of the household and family, these women give a large portion of their time to make this important contribution. The process is also not always smooth. For example, it can be difficult to send fabric for the masks to certain rural areas that are located far from town centres.

Dhawa groups are divided based on residential units/estates. Each group in each unit consists of five to seven women. To ensure social distancing even while carrying out this initiative, we limit the number of members in each group and encourage them to use personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times. For that reason, most of them are making the cloth masks in their own homes, and only a handful are using a public learning house (we call these Rumah Pintar) if they have no space at home.

A member of the JLYM Dhawa group sewing fabric to make the cloth mask.

Mery Melano Fernando is one of the volunteers from East Kalimantan Region 2, JLYM (Jakluay Mill) unit. Mery is the wife of the mill manager, Fernando. As of 12 April, other than managing household needs for her family, she also started making cloth masks for this initiative. She is working with 12 other women in her estate, and they are divided into two groups – JLYM (Jakluay Mill) and JLYT (Jakluay Transport). With Mery as the coordinator for both groups, they divide the tasks amongst themselves and are aiming to make 1,000 masks with their skillful hands. They are producing the masks at home to ensure social distancing.

Mery shared that it hasn’t been easy persuading others help in this good cause. “I have to tell myself and other women that our support is very meaningful in fighting COVID-19. I emphasised to all members that there is no contribution too small – all their efforts are meaningful for our brothers and sisters out there,” explained Mery.

As one of her strategies, Merry mapped the members’ interests and talents. From there, she distributed tasks that play to each group’s strengths.

“When they do what they like, then the work itself won’t be a burden for them. So I divided the work into specific tasks, such as fabric cutting, sewing, string cutting, etc,” added Mery.

She also advises the women not to work together in one place and delivers the basic materials needed to make the cloth masks to their respective homes. This way, the potential for virus spread is minimised.

Each day, Mery and her Dhawa group from JLYM and JLYT are able to produce 80 cloth masks. To date, they have produced a total of 350 cloth masks and will need around eight more days to achieve the target of 1,000.

Read about how else we’re supporting communities through COVID-19 here.

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