Amid lockdown restrictions, 23 volunteers in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, are working daily to fulfil the regional government’s order for face masks and other personal protective equipment. The volunteers are tailors who have benefited from extensive training under SITA’s handloom project in Ethiopia, which seeks to strengthen the sector through supporting knowledge transfer and capacity building from India.
Soon after the outbreak of the pandemic, the University of Bahir Dar’s Ethiopian Institute of Textile and Fashion Technology (EiTex), a key institutional partner to the handloom project, decided to lead an initiative to produce face masks for the regional government. Thirty-five garmenting trainees under SITA’s handloom project participated, producing 2,200 face masks per day. By the end of April, the garmenters were working on two types of mask patterns and had produced over 27, 500 masks in just one month! Even after lockdown restrictions were imposed on the city, 23 garmenting trainees continued to volunteer to produce personal protective equipment.
On 17 May 2020, Ethiopia’s Minister of Health Dr. Lia Tadesse, visited the production unit as part of an inspection of the general Covid-19 task force in Amhara National Regional State. During the visit she expressed appreciation for the contribution of the volunteers under the Ethiopian Institute of Textile and Fashion Technology’s leadership, especially in light of the general shortage of face masks on the market.
Mr Gunapal Shetty, an Indian garmenting master trainer, who has been training and supporting the garmenters in cutting, stitching and producing the personal protective equipment, said, “Our trainees are learning beyond my expectations – they have all achieved the learning targets that I have set for them. I am very proud of our 23 trainees who have been volunteering despite the challenges imposed by the lockdown. This a great service to the country.” The potential for South-South learning in the sector is high given that Ethiopia’s challenges are similar to those faced by many Indian weaving communities 30 years ago ( e.g. low productivity, limited mechanization, and high input costs). Indeed, the handloom trainees were able to put he techniques learnt from Indian master trainers to good use in supporting the regional government’s efforts to combat Covid-19.
Speaking about her experience, one of the volunteers Ms. Wude Demelash Wondim said, “ This training has taught me new skills and the importance of group work. I am volunteering for the production of face masks and PPE because I believe I have to learn to live for others, and this was the first step toward that goal.”To date, the volunteers, 90% of whom are women, have produced 35,200 face masks and 4,100 pieces of personal protective equipment.
Since its inception in 2018, the handloom project, in partnership with the Ethiopian Institute of Textile and Fashion Technology, has provided training to over 70 handloom artisans, both weavers and garmenters. It has also supported formation of a yarn bank, two social enterprises as well as a producer owned company for weavers. India’s Industree Foundation is SITA’s technical partner in the handloom project.