“At these times of crisis when everyone is fighting a pandemic, we hope to contribute a little by encouraging everyone to use a reusable face mask cover. We need to reduce the usage of surgical masks because frontline and healthcare workers would need them more,” said Lim Choon Choon, manager of Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre.
The Singapore government has imposed circuit breaker measures on 7th of April to curb the spread of COVID-19. People are required to don a face mask to protect themselves and their families. As the pandemic progresses, the demand for face masks have surged. To circumvent that, Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre started a project to make reusable face mask covers to be distributed to those who need them.
According to reports, the filtering efficiency of reusable masks can reach 50 to 60%. A sick person wearing a mask when going out can cut down disease transmission rate by 50 percent, if he or she meets another person who also wears a mask, the rate can be further reduced by another 50 percent.
Lim said that even though fabric masks are available in the market, she wanted to get volunteers to be involved in this project. She added, “This project is a good chance to harness love and positivity from everyone in the society. Even if they can’t be physically present to fight the pandemic, they can produce the mask covers at home, contributing their bit to help everyone get through these trying times.”
Since the start of the face mask cover making project on 3rd of April, there were 20 volunteers and full-time employees of Tzu Chi Singapore who took part in selecting fabric, drawing outlines, cutting and sewing, up until the stage of posting the face masks. During the process, 10 volunteers who are not skilled in sewing were also involved in inserting the ear loops for the mask covers. With the commitment and tenacity of the volunteers, they managed to make 1700 reusable face mask covers, all in just 14 days! Also worthy of mentioning is the fabric raw materials for this project was sponsored by a textile company. The owner of the company, Loh Yeow Seng expressed, “I will do whatever I can. In this situation, it is necessary for everyone to help each other.”
A face mask cover, as the name suggests, is to be used as a cover for a surgical mask, yet it can also be used on its own. Karen Khoo Pin Joo, a volunteer who participated in the project, said, “Chooi Kim (Tzu Chi volunteer) and I did some research online to see which version of face mask cover is most suitable and easy to make.”
As there were many volunteers taking part in sewing, Karen provided volunteers with instruction in graphics and videos to guide them. She added that the face mask covers come in adult and child sizes. For the adult version, a surgical mask can be added for extra protection or worn on its own.
After announcing the free distribution of face mask covers on its Facebook page, Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre immediately received enthusiastic response. In just 9 hours, they collated nearly 700 requests for adult and child face mask covers.
“The number of requests surpassed what we initially estimated, that was very good response!” quipped Lim. The face mask covers were available for requests online, and on top of that, they were also distributed to Tzu Chi Great Love PreSchool, Tzu Chi Seniors Enabling and Engaging Node (SEEN), Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA), migrant workers and many others.
Time was very short for the volunteers to produce more than a thousand mask covers. Following the instruction in graphics, the volunteers cut the fabric, ironed them and sewed the mask. They were willing to race against time to produce the mask covers, one needle, one thread at a time.
To Tan Lee Wei, making a face mask cover was not much of a challenge as she regularly does some sewing and handicraft. She revealed that, on average, she could produce 30 to 40 masks in 1.5 days. Her biggest difficulty came from having to tend to home matters, cook three meals for her family, as well as completing her office job working from home.
“Time is a bigger challenge for me; however, I am grateful that my husband and children helped me out too,” said Tan.
To Tan, the opportunity to make these face mask covers was hard to come by. As the whole world faces a pandemic, not only is she able to put her skills into full use, she could also provide a sense of stability to her fellow residents. She added, “I think this is a good deed, if it is good, we have to do it.
“My vision is deteriorating, so I have to be very focused. If I lose focus, I will need to re-thread...” said 67-year-old volunteer, Chan Lin Yoke who has poor eyesight at night, so she had to sew during the day, with help from her husband.
Even though her contribution might seem little, she humbly acknowledged that, “If I contribute a small part, another person contributes another small part, put all together then we will get a very big part. That is the beauty of working together.”
Apart from the hard work coming from the volunteers sewing the mask covers, Singapore Post agreed to provide free mailing services for the mask covers. A pandemic cannot stop kindness from going around. From sponsoring fabric raw materials, sacrificing their own time to hand-make the mask covers, to providing free postal services, people from all walks of lives contributed their time and money to “fight the pandemic till the end”.