As the world slows and people stay home, physically distance, and wash their hands in order to prevent contracting the coronavirus – many people are not able to follow these WHO recommendations.

In Nairobi, where we are based, there are over two million people living in informal settlements without access to running water in their homes.  In these settlements, entire families share one room – for sleeping, cooking, and living – and 20 families could be sharing one public toilet.  It is impossible to wash your hands before and after touching a door and again before and after entering your house if your toilet and water supply are meters away.

Recently, more and more experts in epidemiology and infectious disease are discussing the benefits of wearing masks.  Initially, there was debate because they were not considered as effective as washing your hands and physically distancing.  But this debate is only relevant where the people have the luxury of accessible running water, modern sanitation, and space.

As many as 25% of people infected with the novel coronavirus do not have symptoms.  In communities where people live day-to-day and must go out each day to earn money for food for themselves and their families – people can not afford to stay home.  Particularly people who are asymptomatic.

Best thinking has turned towards the use of face masks as an important way to spread disease from asymptomatic people to others, as well as a practical way to reduce the spread of infection among populations for whom it is impossible to wash their hands in accordance with WHO recommendations.

In response to the number of people here in Nairobi who are at risk, and in our best efforts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in communities that do not have the resources to manage it – we are collaborating with Florence Masinde and her network of tailors to manufacture and distribute masks.

Our first project was to manufacture and deliver 800 masks to the students, families, teachers, and staff of the Hands of Love school in Kariobangi, Nairobi.  We are coordinating with other groups in the community to distribute masks with the hope that if everyone wears masks while out of their homes, we can slow if not stop the spread of the disease there.

Image: delivery of 800 masks to Sami Maina, director of Hands of Love.

Masks for the community
A HoL parent in her shop

Through Hands of Love director, Sami Maina, we have provided 500 masks to Slum Child Foundation, an organization that uses a contract-model to keep children free from substance abuse; 300 child-sized masks for the students and siblings at Hands of Love; and an additional 3,500 masks to the Kariobangi community including vendors at the market to keep them safe while providing essential services.

We are also working with Taka Bank to provide masks to their Community Champions who are working within settlements where Taka Bank operates youth-empowering recycling initiatives in order to identify the most vulnerable in the communities; provide information in order to make the most effective interventions; share information about preventing, identifying, and managing Covid-19; and bringing resources to those in need. At present, we have delivered 4,000 adult- and 3,000 child-sized masks to the Community Champions. You can see more about this remarkable program and our masks in action in this video.

Masks being distributed, worn at work, and outside

Our initiative not only provides masks free of charge to those who need them, but also supports local economies by partnering with tailors and seamstresses in Nairobi to keep them employed during this economic downturn.

Image: One of the tailors, at home, sewing masks

We are most grateful for the support of family, friends, and colleagues in helping us to reach our goal.  As of  18 September we have manufactured and delivered 20,000 masks.  Thank you!

As the pandemic persists, we will continue to raise funds to deliver masks to people in these communities.  We welcome your tax-deductible contributions via our GOFUNDME campaign.  If you prefer to contribute via M-Pesa, please contact us at  

At present, it costs 72.25 KES (approximately $0.70 USD/mask) to produce a mask for adults.  The cost break down is:

  • Muslin:  6.25 KES
  • Kitenge:  11 KES
  • Elastic:  5 KES
  • Labor:  50 KES (price/mask requested by tailors)

A child-sized mask costs 65.58 KES (approximately $0.64 USD/mask). The cost break down is:

  • Muslin: 4 KES
  • Kitenge: 7.58 KES
  • Elastic: 4 KES
  • Labor: 50 KES

In the upcoming months, we will be producing masks for the overseas market and selling them as “buy-one, give-one” in order to keep on supporting these communities.

Thank you, be well, and be safe!  Amy

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