Ladies making face masks

Community support amid Covid-19

Report by Esther Serem (Women Enterprise Center Project Officer), and the Mlambeni Basket Weavers Committee

Since December 2019, the Covid-19 virus spread from Wuhan, China to many countries around the world. Sadly, on March 13th 2020 the first case was reported in Kenya and since that day the cases have increased rapidly across the country. To curb the spread, the Kenyan government imposed restrictions which included wearing face masks in public places, social distancing,  washing hands with soap or using sanitizer, travel restrictions, and introducing a national  curfew.

Case of Sagalla Community

In Sagalla’s Mwakoma Village, in Taita Taveta County, households depend on agriculture as the primary source of income. The semi-arid climate, combined with unpredictable weather patterns that result in prolonged droughts, plus elephant crop-raiding, threatens livelihoods and food security. Coronavirus is an added threat to this community, negatively affecting daily livelihoods. Those who depended on manual work, and to travel in and out of Voi for work have been impacted as well.

Community support by Save The Elephants (STE)

To help families in Mwakoma Village, STE supported one of the women groups (Mlambeni Basket Weavers) with capital to develop and operate a facemask business. The main aims of the business were to:

  1. Make face masks more accessible to families so that they didn’t have to purchase them from nearby Voi thus minimising exposure to the virus
  2. Help the community have access to less expensive masks
  3. Provide financial support to the many families struggling during these difficult times
  4. Empower the local women by providing opportunities to boost their income and build on their existing skillsets.


Mlambeni Basket Weavers is composed of 40 women from Mwakoma Village. The group is made up of women of different ages who want to support their families through this tough time and also develop and improve their own skills and lives.

STE provided the group with KShs 10K  starter funds in early April. The women, led by the Chairwoman of the group, Clemence,  watched YouTube demonstrations on how to make the face masks. The capital was used to buy cotton fabric material and other items needed for sewing. Due to the social distancing directive from the government, and the skill set of the group, only a few women could be involved in the project.

Among the 40 women, three women had their personal sewing machines and were heavily involved in sewing during the whole period. Eight women were involved in cutting the material while two were involved in the distribution and sale of the masks. The rest of the members were requested to visit the centre to learn and ask questions related to the face mask production. A total of  726 masks were made and distributed to various shops and individuals. The women advertised their business through various available local WhatsApp groups and word of mouth.

The profits from the business will be shared among those involved and the initial KShs 10k support from STE  re-invested back into other eco-enterprise activities in the Women Enterprise Centre (WEC). The WEC is a newly constructed centre built by STE’s Elephants and Bees Project with funding support from the WildLives Foundation. This centre is where the community women will be running their eco-enterprise activities and provide a women-friendly space. It is also where the production and sale of face masks took place.

Other news

The group applied for funds worth KSh 100K  from the national government to develop the group. This was followed by more positive news in May, when the women representative of Taita Taveta County delivered a cheque of KSh 100K. The women plan to invest this money on new projects that will generate an income. Some of the ideas were to invest in table banking or in goats for each woman in the group. The women are waiting for the social distance directive to be eased so they can meet, share ideas and agree on how to invest the KSh 110K. The image below is of the chairlady, Clemence (right) receiving the cheque from the women representative.


Photo credits: Clemence Saghe

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