Who's Behind the Mask
Today amid health concerns, we are all binding together and finding ourselves in one big sewing circle. Typically a sewing circle includes a group of people working together to create either individual pieces or one big project. Now, many of us are pulling out old sewing machines, dusting off cutting wheels and mats, and trying to remember what we learned in home economics way back when to produce one common product...the face mask.
But let's face it, not all of us have sewing machines. Or patience. Or even know how to sew. Thankfully there are enough folks around who do. And whether that's in Costa Rica, Lawra Ghana, or Arlington Virginia, many of these seamstresses found themselves out of work during the global shutdown and no longer had a source of income. So either out of financial necessity, a desire to help, or just a means to keep busy, they got to work and started mass producing the much sought after face mask.
Ghana. Theresa, above, is a shop owner in Lawra and client of Action Through Enterprise (ATE). ATE helped Theresa build her small business, increased her management skills and in return she has helped train other clients coming through the entrepreneurial program with ATE. But suddenly last month everything stopped. Businesses were closed, incomes dried up, and food became scarce. Theresa acted quickly, shifted gears, and tailored her business to produce something everyone needed....face masks. In turn, ATE who needed face masks to distribute throughout Lawra, continued to support this client by ordering and purchasing face masks directly from Theresa.
Costa Rica. Nearly 6,000 miles away in Costa Rica the same thing was happening. Francisca Manuela has a small workshop where she makes uniforms for schools and health clinics. When the coronavirus pandemic hit and face masks were recommended for everyone, she quickly adjusted her focus. Francisca started making face coverings that were even harder to find in rural pockets of the world, like where she lives and works. She intended to provide masks for her community, but when Grupo FINCA heard about the effort, they placed an order.
FINCA is a micro-finance organization that supports rural co-ops, like the one set up where Francisca lives. FINCA works with Bikes for the World by using donated bikes to help support these communities. In addition to bikes, we also donate a majority of our sewing machines to Costa Rica. Over 535 sewing machines, including 10 shipped earlier this year, have been donated to support this project since 2007. These in turn end up scattered throughout the country to help build and support small businesses like Francisca's.
When the pandemic hit Costa Rica it immediately halted one of their largest sources of income, tourism. Many of FINCAs clients would be directly affected not only from a shut down of businesses, but especially the end of tourism where many of them hold jobs in the service sector. This impact has the potential to compound over months, even after the lockdowns are lifted.
FINCA looked to find ways to support their clients and their businesses to help them weather through these difficult times. They purchased 300 face masks from Francisca that they distributed to other FINCA supported co-ops. They are doing similar work with honey and coffee to support other small businesses within their network.