The world is under attack from COVID-19 and Africa has not been spared. In Niger, a country that is simultaneously facing multiple humanitarian crises including conflict, malnutrition, internal displacements, refugees and drought, the government has introduced strict preventive measures to control the spread of the disease.
Since Niger confirmed its first coronavirus case, face masks and other personal protective equipment have become a scarce commodity and where found for sale, the price is too expensive for the average Nigerien to afford. Recently, face masks have risen in price from around 0.16 USD to 2-4 USD.
15-year-old Saafatou is a student at Plan International’s apprenticeship centre in Dosso region where she is learning tailoring skills. She decided to take a stand against the virus by making reusable face masks.
“Everyone has a role to play in the fight against coronavirus. My first role is to protect myself by following the instructions given by the government, then to raise awareness and sew masks at an affordable price so my community can protect themselves too.”
With material provided by Plan International, Saafatou and other apprentices from the centre are using their skills to make masks that can be washed and reused by the wearer, unlike the traditional paper masks which are single use.
“I heard about the disease for the first time through our community radio then the community volunteers taught us more about the disease. I was so scared and sad. All activities in my community are now on hold. There are no more social gathering, no more savings group’s meeting, the mosques and schools are closed, no home visits and even our learning center has been closed.”
Niger recorded its first case of COVID-19 on 19March 2020 and since then, the number of cases has continued to rise. “I would like to urge the community and girls to apply prevention measures to avoid being infected and to also curb the spread of the virus,” says Saafatou.
The coronavirus is having a huge impact on Niger’s economy just like other African countries, so the mask making business is helping girls like Saafatou in providing for their daily needs during this crisis. “Well, at end of the day I will earn some money but most importantly, I would have helped save lives,” she smiles. So far, Saafatou and the other girls have manufactured 7,215 reusable masks.
Saafatou and other apprentices are beneficiaries of a five-year programme by Plan International Niger which focuses on preventing child marriage by supporting girls and young women to become the leaders of social and economic change.
Plan International is responding to the COVID-19 crisis in Niger and is working with young leaders, community development associations and leaders to distribute handwashing kits and raise awareness in 81 sponsorship communities in Dosso and Tillabéri region, reaching around 78,905 people.