UNDER normal circumstances, an old bald-headed man on a sewing machine is synonymous with a tailor making or patching up garments. There is nothing special or extraordinary about such a man.
But these are abnormal times. The Covid-19 pandemic has swept away normalcy and brought new realities.Paul Nyakudanga (68), a resident of Orange Park village in Macheke, an area under the jurisdiction of Chief Mangwende, has brought hope to the local community in face of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. He wakes up in the wee hours of the day to make home-made face masks worn to protect against the invisible Covid-19 killer.
Most people in the community cannot afford surgical masks, but in Nyakudanga, the Macheke community has found someone offering a potential life-saving solution.
Hearing the constant whir of his sewing machine, one could be forgiven for thinking that some strange contraption has arrived in this laid back community; but the sight of the neatly sewn cloth with elastic strings reveals what is taking place.
Nothing sophisticated, nothing complex — just simple improvisation by a man with a golden heart.
“When l listen to the news, I hear so many people have died and I also heard the government encouraging social distancing and the wearing of face masks. I got the idea to make my own which I sell at affordable prices around here,” he said.
“My daughter-in-law is the one who gets me the cloth and the elastic strings and l pay her back when l can. Although I do not make much profit, it is the thought of knowing that l have potentially prevented the spread of this deadly disease that keeps me going.”
He sells the masks for ZW$30 each, definitely appealing to the pocket of the average rural folks.
Having lost his job as a tailor at a Harare factory in 2005, the prospect of making masks that could save lives has ignited a fire in Nyakudanga’s belly and he has not felt this energised since the good old days when the economy allowed him to buy bread and milk for just ZW$1.
“I haven’t been this passionate about sewing since l used to work in Harare as a tailor because this side (in the rural areas) you do not get to make much money out of it. But in this instance the urge to help people is outweighing the need for a quick buck.”
Face masks, combined with other preventive measures such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the disease, according to the World Health Organisation
Last month, the government exposed itself to ridicule when Zanu PF bigwigs used a donation of 10 litres of hand sanitiser as a vehicle for political grandstanding, much to the bemusement of Zimbabweans.
The government’s incapacitation in providing the necessary protection against the highly infectious Covid-19 is in sharp contrast to the commendable efforts of ordinary citizens like Nyakudanga whose actions are making a difference in impoverished communities.
From village tailor to real-life superhero, the story of Nyakudanga has also encouraged 25-year-old Cosmas Gondo to place himself at the service of the local community while making a small profit.
“I was really inspired by Mdhara Paul’s big heart. When I heard that he is making Covid-19 masks, I was motivated to also do my bit for the community. So I buy the masks at a wholesale price of ZW$20 from him then I sell each at the retail price of ZW$30 in the community, and those who buy from me if they cannot come and collect their mask, I deliver them for free,” an energetic Gondo said.
Local resident Sheila Mukombe, who recently purchased a mask from Gondo, is proud to be the owner of such a life-saving piece of fabric. Even the mask she was donning could not hide her happiness. She was smiling with her eyes.
She said the sewing of masks locally has been beneficial to the community as it gives villagers the confidence that comes with safety.
“I was afraid to go outside without this mask but now I can do so in confidence because there are places like the communal garden, the grinding mill or kumaricho (communal field tasks) where you meet other local people and the question in your mind would be: ‘Does the person whom I been talking to have corona?’,” Mukombe said.
“With my mask, coupled with social distancing, I know that I can easily avoid this pandemic and I also managed to buy two other masks with the money I have been saving because the masks are so strong and affordable.”
Drought and crop failure, exacerbated by macro-economic challenges and austerity measures, have directly affected vulnerable households in both rural and urban communities. Inflation continues to erode purchasing power and the affordability of food and other essential goods is a daily struggle.
The delivery of healthcare, education, clean water and sanitation, has been constrained and millions of people are facing challenges in accessing vital services.
Health experts say ensuring that everyone wears a face mask can help lessen the spread of Covid-19.
Countries that stipulated the wearing of face masks, testing, isolation and social distancing early in the pandemic seem to have had some success in slowing down the disease’s spread.
A snap survey by the Zimbabwe Independent found that most households in the Orange Park community had constructed their own traditional hands-free soap dispensers locally known as gubhu-giya with easily available materials consisting of wood, a plastic bottle and string.
Two sticks, 1,5 metres tall, are stuck into the ground with a vertical line crossing at the top where a stringed plastic bottle is tied with an additional string going to the wooden stick pedal. The result is a cheap and convenient solution for combating the spread of the respiratory infection.
Gertrude Kaunye, who recently had her own gubhu-giya constructed close to her Blair toilet, said the innovation would go a long way in preventing the disease.
“This gubhu-giya technique is really helping us here in the rural areas because some of us cannot afford to buy these expensive sanitisers so we turn to what we can afford. The gubhu-giya does not take time to construct and it is easy to find the materials to build one,” she said.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Zimbabwe had shot up from 63 to 132 as of Wednesday this week.