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Slum dwellers in Coimbatore make masks for sanitation workers and save them from contracting virus

Last month, when the nationwide lockdown was announced, 42-year-old Krishnakumari was worried about how she was going to afford groceries for the next 21 days. But in a week, she got an excellent job, which she hadn’t thought would prevent thousands of frontline workers from contracting COVID-19.

A slum dweller in Vivekanadapuram of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, she, along with three other women from the same locality, has been making cloth masks for sanitation workers in the district. The group comprises both homemakers and college students. The four-member team is part of the Tamil Nadu Urban Sanitation Support Programme (TNUSSP) that aids the state government in its sanitation mission.

The women work six days a week and earn around ₹200 every day, which helps them make ends meet. “My husband is a daily wage labourer,” says Krishnakumari. “He couldn’t find any work due to the lockdown. Fortunately, TNUSSP called us to make masks for sanitation workers and this is our only source of income now.”

As the number of COVID-19 cases began increasing, the responsibilities of sanitation workers have doubled. They ensure all areas in the city are clean, but their own safety isn’t ensured at various places. That was when the TNUSSP approached the Coimbatore administration with the idea of providing cloth masks to sanitation workers and financial support to the women. The administration immediately gave its consent to it.

The TNUSSP has set the women in Vivekanadapuram at target of making masks for 9,970 sanitation workers. This comprises one-third of the district’s demand. “The rest is supplied by the Indian Yards Quilt Shop based in Nilgiris,” says Vinitha Murukesan, Additional Programme Coordinator, TNUSSP.

The women are paid ₹5 for each mask they make and ₹15 is saved for their future. The TNUSSP set up a community field centre and an exclusive enterprise for women in January this year to train female dwellers in Vivekanandapuram in tailoring so that they get an economic independence.

Initially, 15 women received basic training in tailoring with the support of a bank. This helped eight women to start a small-scale tailoring unit within the community. In February, another 10 women were trained. “The job makes us happy as we are doing this for a good cause,” says T Pushpavathi (34), a homemaker from Vivekanandapuram.

The TNUSSP bought raw materials from Erode and Tiruppur districts and the four women were trained online to make masks. Soon after the training, the women began the work, maintaining proper social distancing at a centre in Vivekanadapuram. The team has already delivered 550 masks to sanitation workers and another 400 are ready for delivery.