Contributing to the COVID-19 Fight One Stitch at a Time, Esther Muna’s Story

by Noah Wekesa

“I got involved with Amref Health Africa back in 2015 at the Dagoretti Centre through the Divas – a program for young mothers. Each of the Divas had a young child, and we had dropped out of school. We were taught business skills, and through a partnership with Kenya Kanga, we were equipped with tailoring skills.

When COVID-19 hit Kenya, we had no source of income. Things were not easy for us.

In May, Amref called on us, and we were taken through a week’s training on what personal protective equipment (PPEs) are and the process of producing surgical face masks and gowns. We are excited because through our work to produce these PPEs, we are among those contributing to the fight against COVID-19.

I am also glad to have a sustained income to take care of my son, who is now in Grade 2.

Amref has continued to train us, and we have more skills in business, fashion and design. With these skills, we can even eventually set up our boutiques,” concludes Esther.

‘Divas’ is a Young Mothers’ group facilitated through a partnership between Amref Health Africa and Kenya Khanga, where a group of 12 young mothers between the ages of 17 and 32 years were equipped with tailoring skills. The young mothers participated in a two-day weekly tailoring workshop where they worked on selected items and were paid according to work done, earning Kshs 1,500-2,500 (US$15-25) per month, which many of them used to pay rent, buy food and some pay for their children’s daycare. They gained life skills, and 50% of them adopted family planning to delay more pregnancies, they gained alternative skills in fashion, design and urban gardening.

Since the year 2000, Amref Health Africa has been running youth empowerment programmes in Dagoretti which have impacted over 100,000 lives through various interventions focusing on vulnerable children and young people. One such venture is the Dagoretti Fashion and Design Centre – a social impact-driven enterprise in fashion and design to produce high-quality market-driven products to socially and economically transform the lives of young women.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a great demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) globally, and shortages are leaving health workers and the general public dangerously exposed to the disease. Like many other countries, the Kenyan government issued a directive for the public to wear face masks at all times when in public places to avert the spread and transmission of COVID-19. In light of this, there has been an exponential demand for PPE, and countries have had to innovate and activate industry capacity to support the local manufacturing amid the global and national lockdowns.

With support from The Coca-Cola Foundation, Amref Health Africa has commenced the process of training 50 young mothers and women from Dagoretti (who had previously received training in fashion and design) on mass production of PPE at the Dagoretti Fashion and Design Centre.

Amref currently has a production capacity of 20,000 masks and 100 surgical gowns per month, with the capacity to increase production based on demand. This presents an opportunity for young women to earn a living by using their skills to address the dire need for PPE. Amref will also continue to equip these young women with important information and knowledge on sexual reproductive health and rights.

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