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Soon after the first lockdown was announced, Sourav Das, a resident of Delhi came home with a mask, hoping that it would provide him with adequate protection, when he stepped out. However, his mother, Laxmi, was not impressed. The mask was not washable, reusable or even breathable and yet, cost about Rs 300.
“It was so expensive. I was very angry and scolded him for this, because I could have made a much better mask at home, for practically no money!” she shares with The Better India (TBI).
The very next day, Laxmi, a 56-year-old homemaker, stitched about 25 masks. She distributed the first batch among workers and shopkeepers in her areas and following the positive response, Sourav installed five “dispensaries” in his locality in Delhi, to ensure that no vegetable vendor, hawker or needy person goes without a mask.
In the last two months, the mother-son duo has distributed over 1000 masks—all homemade, free of cost and mostly, for the benefit of those who cannot afford to buy masks even in these challenging times.
Utilising a Hobby for Good
Laxmi shares that she is a skilled seamstress, and has often stitched clothes for herself and her family. “I enjoy this work, and have hand-stitched suits and blouses for my daughters. This practice came in handy during the lockdown,” she insists.
Currently, it’s just Laxmi and Sourav in their Delhi home because her two daughters are married and living with their in-laws. Her husband was in their native village when the lockdown was imposed. He hasn’t been able to return home yet.
“After Sourav got that mask home, I examined it carefully. It wasn’t a complicated design, and I could stitch a double-layered-three-fold mask easily. My brother runs a small workshop where he teaches underprivileged women to stitch nighties and loungewear, and there is always some spare cloth available. So we got a pile of cloth from his shop, and I got to work,” she shares.
The masks are all made of cotton, large enough to cover your face from the nose bridge to the chin and breathable. “In this heat, the workers need the masks to not suffocate them or cause them discomfort. That is my aim,” she adds.
Laxmi wanted to stitch a total of 2000 masks and get them to farmers and other labourers in their native village. But Sourav thought of another plan—especially because there is no clarity about when they will be able to travel next.
Free Mask “Dispensaries” in Delhi
“Shopkeepers in the local markets, rickshaw pullers and such other labourers couldn’t afford to buy disposable or even reusable masks. And they are vulnerable to the risk of infection simply because of the number of people they interact with. I suggested we distribute the homemade masks to them,” Sourav explains.
He also wanted to make sure that there was minimum contact during distribution. So, he designed a box that works just like a tissue box in a public toilet. You pull a ribbon hanging outside the box, and that is attached to one mask. The person following you will pull another ribbon strip, attached to a brand new mask.
“I didn’t have any metal or plastic containers, so I took cardboard boxes and chocolate boxes that were lying around. For each box, I cut a slit at the bottom and arranged the masks inside it. Each box has a minimum of 12 and maximum of 30 masks at full capacity,” he says.
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Today we installed another mask dispenser in Market no. 4 near United bank of India atm. We encountered larger number of needy people eager to get their hands on a free mask today. Some of the daily wage workers working around the market area at first were hesitant to come and pull free masks from the dispenser. Upon coaxing and convincing them that the masks are free did they start gathering around the dispenser. We shall be refilling the dispensers daily with masks. I urge you all to share and reach out to people who may be able to help me in my intiative in any small way possible. Please spread the word around of this initiative because the aim of my work is for masks to reach the underprivileged. So the people in dire need of these masks are able to procure them! Let’s all fight this pandemic head on with kindness and compassion meanwhile maintaining social distancing. I would like to thank all my family and friends who have come forward to help me in my endeavour. Caption credits – @vulgarly.pure Artwork and lettering – @phir.se.ud.chala #ndtv #unicef #theprint #who #viceindia #bbc #bbcindia #sodelhi #dfordelhi #delhigram #coronavirus #CoronaViruspandemic #coronavirusoutbreak #covid19 #covid19india #frontliners #india #indialockdown #migrantworkers #Coronavirus
So far he has put up five such kits at the entrances of local markets and one in his residential lane. A board with the words “Pick one. Stay safe” hangs over each box. These boards too are made with newspapers—making this a 100 per cent recycled project!
Laxmi is not done yet. She has stitched over 1200 masks of which 1000+ have already been distributed. Nearly 700 of these were in the boxes and the others were personally handed over to workers and helpers.
In these stressful times, where the number of COVID-19 cases is only going up, every small contribution helps in breaking the chain. With their efforts, Laxmi and Sourav are ensuring no one in their locality goes without a mask simply because they can’t afford to purchase one.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)