Over 2,600 women making face masks in Assam to tackle shortage

Guwahati: Over 2,600 women of self-help groups in Assam are toiling day and night to produce face masks to tackle its shortage due to coronavirus pandemic, an official said.

The masks are being prepared by the women, who are part of 261 self help groups (SHGs), under the guidance of the Assam State Urban Livelihoods Mission (ASULM).

Nearly 77,000 masks prepared by them have already been distributed among the people in different parts of the state, he said.

President of Guwahati-based ‘Niribili SHG’ Dipti Kumari said, the group had made a huge number of ‘Gamosas’ (Assamese scarves) for the Bihu festival, but it remained unsold due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent nationwide lockdown.

“After consultation with the ASULM, we started making masks from the cotton ‘Gamosas’. In this way, we are trying to recover our losses. As the market is mostly closed, the ASULM has taken our products for distribution,” she told PTI here.

Kumari informed that the SHG is making special masks for children which are in high demand as normal medical masks do not not come in smaller size.

“It is giving us a sense of satisfaction while making the masks. It feels good to help society in some way during this crisis,” Kumari said.

Rashmi Rekha Kakati, the secretary of Nagaon’s ‘Runjun SHG’, said, initially masks were being made with normal cotton fabric, but now the unsold ‘Gamosas’ were being used.

“We are supplying our two-layered masks to municipality offices, shops and pharmacies. Now, the ASULM is also sourcing it from us for distribution in different localities,” she added.

Kakati said that the ASULM had provided the initial capital to start the work, but now it has become self- sustaining.

“We are also helping the poor in our locality by distributing relief materials. The ASULM is supporting us in every sphere and has given us a big platform,” she said.

When contacted, ASULM director Suvasish Das was all praise for the women of the SHGs.

“The entire exercise is the endeavour of our brave and hardworking women.

“We have only linked them to the market so that they get their due price and the product is affordable for people,” he told PTI.

Some of the major clients of these masks include municipal boards, PSU majors ONGC and OIL India, Northeast Frontier Railway, district administrations and NGOs apart from local residents, shopkeepers and pharmacies, he added.

“In one of the major contracts, the NFR contractor supplied 15,000 masks from four SHGs in Rangia.

“Gradually, the orders are increasing after the Centre made wearing masks mandatory and the women are trying hard to meet the demand,” Das said.

He informed that these fully hand woven masks are being made as per COVID-19 guidelines of the Government of India, and are being constantly monitored by the ASULM personnel.

Making the homemade masks is also generating livelihood opportunities for the women SHG members in the lockdown period.

The masks are priced between Rs 20 and Rs 40 per piece, the ASULM director said.

Assam has 97 urban local bodies and around 15,000 SHGs are registered with the ULBs, he said.

The ASULM has trained over 7,000 paramedics so far and the list has been provided to the state Health and Family Welfare Department for their possible engagement during the battle against novel coronavirus.

“The Health department sought the list on how many people we have trained so far. We have given the list to the department.

“The people who have been trained can work as nursing assistants, physiotherapists, and can be put on general hospital duty,” he said.

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