SEWING HOPE: COMMUNITY ACTION FOR FRONTLINERS AND OUR PEOPLE
Community-based production of PPEs
Novel Solution for Public Protection
The COVID-19 pandemic overwhelmed the Philippines’ healthcare system and public panic over the situation caused a frightening shortage in supply of basic personal protective equipment (PPE). These PPEs proved to be crucial in preventing the spread of the virus, which has already victimized many exhausted health care professionals.
Amid panic and mourning, a family mobilized their community to help produce face masks and hospital grade protective gowns, which they distributed to hospitals in Metro Manila. Sewing Hope: Community Action for Frontliners and Our People is a community-based Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) production initiative. It is an interesting study on how to mobilize skills and incorporate cultural heritage in responding to a crisis. Their initiative showcases humane and compassionate mass-production of vital supplies for local needs using local materials and community skills. Their model of a social enterprise could be instructive on how an associative economy may be built and developed as an alternative to an economy that is dominated by big and foreign enterprises that rely on sweatshop production.
For this presentation of initial findings on the case of Sewing Hope, we will use the voice of Amihan Abueva who is the motivating agent for this community project. Interspersed with her narrative are excerpts from their blog entitled Our Story which may be found in the Facebook page of Sewing Hope. The link to their blog is found here.
“This is our story. The narrative will continue to evolve as our community grows. We began this story in April (2020) and it has been revised and updated for up to about 15 times already. To all of us in the Sewing Hope team, this is also a learning process that we would like to share with you.”
I am Amihan Abueva. I currently serve as the Regional Executive Director of Child Rights Coalition Asia (CRC Asia). This community project is being done with help from family, friends, and kindred spirit and close colleagues in children’s rights advocacy.
“In the spirit of Filipino Bayanihan, I, together with my family and friends, have initiated a small-scale community personal protective equipment (PPE) sewing project.
The project began when several residents at Romarosa Townhomes volunteered their time to take part in the project. Some cut the cloths according to the patterns, some are sewing, and some do the disinfection process of the gear before the delivery to the identified health facilities.
Using locally-sourced materials, we have been producing cloth masks to be donated to communities, hospital staff, and other frontliners. To date, we have distributed over 5,000 cloth masks to various communities and health facilities through the contribution of various individuals and organizations.”
We were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning, I was very anxious and thinking of how to continue to work under the new situation. During the first few weeks of the pandemic, my family and our community felt the challenge of not being mobile, trying to find a safe way to purchase food and other necessities. My family responded to these challenges by doing online purchasing of food, and I decided to make masks to protect my family, neighbors, security guards, and janitors, and then expanded to make more masks.
Our organization emerged out of the initial anxiety. Being able to produce more masks and ppes made me less anxious and I used my skills in mobilizing and designing to be able to produce more and more.
I have a background as a quilter. I already had a lot of fabric at home, so this became the source of the fabrics at the beginning. I donated a lot of the cloth, in order to help with the production of the initial masks, so the fabric, patterns, samples and garters were sent to various communities so that they could produce more for their own use. The selling part came much later, when my initial stash was about to run out.
(Photo of seamstresses in action, from Sewing Hope Facebook page)
We organized an enterprise devoted to the production of masks and PPEs [personal protective equipment], developing livelihood opportunities, sharing of the patterns, developing the skills, sharing the list of vendors of materials, etc. to make it possible for more groups to produce PPEs.
In many ways, the work we do in Sewing Hope is similar to the work we do in CRC Asia:
“Children are among the vulnerable groups that are being affected by COVID-19. For children and other vulnerable groups, the impact of COVID-19 is beyond medical, as there are several determinants of health that are linked to the pandemic and socio-economic concerns that are being laid bare such as job insecurity, food and nutrition, lack of housing, safe spaces, water, sanitation, and hygiene, violence against children including heightened domestic abuse and online sexual exploitation, stigma, and discrimination, among many, many others. To continue to link this initiative with our child rights work at CRC Asia, aside from the financial support for families in communities that the sewing project contributes, the team is also going to distribute useful information, education, and communication (IEC) materials about child protection, mental health and psychosocial support, breastfeeding and infant and young child feeding that children, parents, and caregivers urgently need during these challenging times when not everyone can have the connection to the internet.”
The Sewing Hope team staff from CRC Asia is smaller now but we have other volunteers who are now taking more responsibility to keep it going. The possibility of providing livelihood to more sewing and weaving groups, as well as riders, and being able to donate more masks to keep more people in the community protected. Also the continuing support from family and friends.
We have volunteers to answer queries and orders from customers through the Facebook page, who also post the pictures of new products. I take charge of the purchase and selection of fabrics for the masks, and these are farmed out to the different sewing groups for production, and then these are collected and distributed from our main hub, which is my living room in my house. We also distribute our paper fans on child rights to the customers and to the groups we donate the masks/PPEs to, to be able to expand our reach.
There were times of doubt, many times, when we worry about how to have money to buy more materials and pay for the labor of the sewing groups and weavers, also on how to continue the Sewing Hope project and still maintain the non-profit status of CRC Asia.
We surpassed these moments of doubt when we consulted our auditor and the CRC Asia board of trustees and they have given us some options to explore.
Our main challenge now is the legal status of Sewing Hope in order to be able to continue operating and expanding. Some of the NGO staff are worried about the legal ramifications and whether this might endanger our non-profit status, as well as some are worried about the additional work it might entail on their part.
Social and Trust Networks
In the early days of our organized efforts, we connected first, with my neighbors, due to the limitations on mobility. Then we were able to expand the network of sewing groups through referrals of other organizations. They were mostly personal contacts or contacts of friends.
Our major partners and supporters now are still mostly friends and family, but now we have a loyal base of customers, some of whom have become friends. They became our partners/supporters through direct information or through Facebook posts, family and friends supported, and then they referred other friends, and now through Facebook, we are able to reach more people here and abroad.
Our organization promotes our service/enterprise by connecting our activities to the major issues or situation, to connect the Sewing Hope to be able to respond directly to COVID-19 pandemic, to the lack of PPEs, to the typhoons, and now to the community pantries.
We tried to approach local government officials to support local production of ppes to mobilize the local community sewing groups but this was not successful except in Los Baños.
We need to get more support and help LGUs as part of thinking about innovative ways to support their own constituents. LGUs can provide financial and other incentives. In our case, the OVP helped us by sharing the open source of PPE patterns designed by Filipino designers. Later we also asked them to support our book launching on public investments for children.
Our clientele have been very supportive and sometimes they provide constructive feedback, I think that generally, the public perceives our initiative/services, as favorable, but some customers are looking for a bargain which we cannot compete with because it will be detrimental to the riders for example.
(Photos of sample products donated to a medical facility, from Sewing Hope Facebook Page)
Prospects for Sustainability
We plan to continue delivering our services after the COVID-19 pandemic, but it depends how we can arrange the legal status of Sewing Hope.
We plan to sustain our services after the COVID-19 pandemic by developing new products, such as mastectomy bras and reusable menstrual pads, to be connected to our efforts and efforts to prevent early and child marriages.
In terms of legal institutional requirements for sustaining our operations, we need support on this. We also need to strengthen the core of Sewing Hope, and make a good connection between Sewing Hope and CRC Asia.