IDP women lead COVID-19 preparedness and response activities in the UN PoC site in Wau

“I can now help protect my family and my community from this dangerous disease called coronavirus,” says Tuna Marcello, -a mother of two,- living with disability and one of the participants taking part in the non-medical facemask production pilot. This initiative is organized by the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Camp Management and Camp Coordination (CCCM) unit in the UN Protection of Civilians Adjacent Area (PoCAA) site in Wau, in the Western Bahr el Ghazal region of South Sudan.

Tuna sharing her perception about the Women-led face mask making initiative in the Wau PoCAA site © IOM 2020 / Sergios Ponsiano Tuna is one of the  29 internally displaced women (among whom  11 women are living with disabilities) who enrolled in the Women Empowerment Project which has been adapted since March 2020 towards activities combating the spread of COVID-19 in the community such as the production of reusable face masks. 

“To promote women’s participation in COVID-19 preparedness and response activities, the CCCM team reoriented its activities of the ongoing Women’s Participation Project to include reusable facemasks production activities,” says Aman Gokalp, IOM South Sudan’s acting CCCM Programme Manager.

Working closely with IOM’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services (MHPSS) team, the CCCM unit mobilized and trained the twenty-nine women on basic machine and hand sewing skills to produce the face masks. After the training, IOM provided twelve sewing machines and materials to the groups to help them work effectively.  To ensure no one was left behind, women with disabilities who had difficulty to operate the sewing machines led in other key functions such as cutting cloth, folding, fixing of strings and counting masks, with the support of MHPSS team members.

Keeping in place safety measures to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 among the group, two areas within the UN Protection site have been repurposed to enable women to maintain the necessary social distancing and have access to hand washing stations.

Three weeks after the intensive hand and machine sewing trainings, Tuna is able to design and sew reusable face masks to be distributed to the frontline humanitarian staff and community leaders as well as to those at highest risk of virus transmission. This allows her to also meet her family’s basic needs such as food and medical care, thanks to the income she earns from the mask production.

IDP women sharing experience on hand sewing skills of cloth masks during a seamstress training facilitated by IOM CCCM team in Wau PoCAA site © IOM 2020 / Sergios Ponsiano “These activities do not only serve the two purposes of protection against COVID-19 as well as women’s empowerment, but also provide these women with a safe space to share their experiences, leading to positive psychosocial effects and contributing to increase their self-esteem,” adds Gokalp.

Tuna’s group produces an average of 166 masks a day. A total of 3000 masks have been produced so far which will be distributed to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) within the PoC site to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

“With the new skills I learned during the trainings, everybody around my house is reaching out to me to learn how these masks are produced which has given me more weight and value in my community and with the little money I get from selling the masks I am able to improve the small business that am running at home,” says Tuna Marcello.

With the support of ‘Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM)’ of the US State Department under the global Safe from the Start Initiative, the IOM Camp Management and Camp Coordination (CCCM) team in South Sudan has been working on promoting meaningful participation of displaced women, including women and girls with disabilities, in the Wau PoCAA community governance structures and decision-making processes.

As part of the Women’s Participation Project, which has been implemented in South Sudan since 2016, the IOM CCCM team is building  women’s capacities to stand for leadership positions in community governance structures and empower them to voice their concerns and provide feedback on programing.

The project is also facilitating their access to income-generating opportunities that contribute to reducing their vulnerabilities, increasing their self-reliance and reduce their perceptions of risks to gender-based violence (GBV). 

This article was written by Nabie Loyce, IOM South Sudan Media and Communications Assistant

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