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Hygiene masks made by women in Direct Provision

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SMI is an initiative by women living in direct provision centres to help themselves and other vulnerable people living in the community, in response to the COVID 19 pandemic.

SMI is an initiative spearheaded by BetterTogether and the Cork Migrant Centre at Nano Nagle Place, with the support of the UCC University of Sanctuary, UCC Feminist and Fáilte Refugees Societies.

The Sanctuary Mask Initiative (SMI) recruits’ women living in Direct Provision Centres to produce hygiene masks to distribute to residence in Direct Provision, the elderly in nursing homes and other vulnerable groups. Each of the women involved in the project have been supplied with a sewing machine, fabric and necessary supplies needed for the manufacturing of washable hygiene masks. The masks are made using pure cotton and linen, which are breathable, non-irritant and do shrink.

The production of the masks is coordinated by Olga Voytenko, a seamstress and resident of Kinsale Rd Accommodation Centre, who has set up her own sewing and alteration business in the heart of Cork City. Each of the women involved in the project are themselves skilled seamstresses and are given a wage for their labour (in accordance with their rights to work status). Charlotte Cargin from Charlotte and Jane, a Kinsale based design label, is the  fashion design consultant on this project. 

An information leaflet has been produced to distribute along with each hygiene mask, in a variety of languages. The Leaflet contains information on the proper use of the masks alongside other measures and guidelines advised by the HSE and the World Health Organisation. HSE and WHO guidelines, as well as the recommendations of a public health expert, were consulted and deployed in the production of information guides on the use of hygiene masks. The official guidelines emphasise that the hygiene masks do not replace existing guidelines on safety procedures for COVID-19.

Residence of Direct Provision centres are often viewed through a deficit lens as passive recipients of events and as individuals with nothing to contribute to society. This view does not account for the economic, social and psychological processes that create vulnerabilities and resultant powerlessness for this population. This view also undermines the strengths and resilience of this population. The Sanctuary Mask Initiative is designed to harness the strengths of people living within the Direct Provision system, recognising their agency in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

For more information, email [email redacted]


Vera Stoanovic

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