Over 12,000 women associated with 1,500 Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in all 12 districts of Himachal Pradesh have never let their sewing machines stop to meet the growing demand for facemasks in Covid pandemic since March 2020.
These women are tirelessly sewing facemasks to do their bit in fight against pandemic but the initiative has also helped them in becoming self reliant and earn quick bucks while doing daily chores.
The initiative was started in March 2020 under the Rural Development department in Una district where around 400 members of 38 SHGs affiliated to the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), turned its attention to making natural and breathable fabric masks.
The initiative at that time was limited for their families and neighbours while earning quick bucks for themselves and they were trained virtually on making medicated and sanitized facemasks for the department.
State Rural Development minister Virender Kanwar said after the success of this small initiative, special officers were deputed in each district to coordinate with the SHG members in preparing masks.
The state government also roped in Rural Self Employment Training Institutes to provide training to SHG members to meet the growing demand of face masks during the first phase of lockdown as sudden demand had escalated prices.
Besides, this has helped in bridging big gaps in demand and supply which was created in the pandemic.
The SHGs started working on a war footing for sewing 3-layer surgical non-woven cloth masks as recommended by the Health department and it became an invaluable resource in stabilizing prices and ensuring timely and quality supply of facemasks to the people.
“Around 12,000 women of the 1,500 SHGs associated with NRLM have produced around 40 lakh low cost masks till August 2021 and the demand has been steadily growing day by day.
An experienced SHG member can produce a 3-layer mask in 5 to 7 minutes and a woman member of a SHG produces 300 to 500 face masks in a day after finishing their household chores.
These are three-layered washable fabric masks as per the World Health Organisation (WHO) standard that keeps out viruses and bacteria,” he added.
He stated that HP State Rural Livelihood Mission provided raw material for production of the masks initially to kick start the project but now SHGs were managing it on their own on local level.
“Proper hygiene is maintained while producing the facemasks such as mask, head cover, machine sanitization etc and the masks are properly sanitized before delivery.
In addition, the district administration and DRDAs are helping SHGs in training, transportations, marketing and sanitization of these masks,” the minister said.
Kanwar further stated that these facemasks were supplied to the health department, jal shakti, police, urban bodies employees and other government departments who were in essential duties and also sold in open markets.
These masks were supplied free of cost to frontline workers, MGNREGA workers and other needy people by respective SHG.
“The masks are being sold under the brand name ‘HIM IRA’ at nominal prices much below the market rates. We are also exploring possibilities to make its availability more in the open market and supplying it to neighboring states. The SHGs, largest networks of women in the state particularly from rural areas, are also going around the villages and creating awareness and countering misinformation about Covid through various means like WhatsApp groups,” he added.