This #WorldRefugeeDay, meet your mask-maker

June 19, 2020

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Masks are not only the most visible change in our lives since the COVID-19 pandemic began, but they are now a visible sign for women’s empowerment in the Rohingya community. This #WorldRefugeeDay we take you behind the mask with Sayeka, one of our 127 new mask makers. 

COVID-19 is changing our world in almost every way. One of the most visible ones is the wearing of masks.

Face masks are here to stay, and, as the outbreak expands and then possibly recurs, the demand for them will continue to rise.

To meet the demand of masks in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, a project was initiated in the Rohingya camps. There, Sayeka Ali* is one of 127 women who has been sewing together hundreds of these life-saving items.

Read more: Celebrating World Refugee Day 

Sayeka learned to sew after joining the Multipurpose Women’s Centre in January last year. This was shortly after her husband left her and her newborn daughter to remarry. He would visit her once a month, but when he left, he would take the rations she had received through relief efforts. Joining the centre served as a healthy distraction at that time.

The women’s centre is focused on providing Rohingya women with skill-based training, such as sewing, block printing and agriculture. They began mask production in April, in response to COVID-19. The masks produced are based on approved samples. Funded by UN Women and led by BRAC, the project operates in two camps, and maintains the hygiene measures necessary to keep the women safe from contamination of the virus.

While she is producing masks, Sayeka is spending her time with other women who share similar stories as her – fleeing persecution, subjected to violence and left alone without any discernible future.

More than 127 Rohingya women have been making masks in the women’s centres, and together they have made more than 30,000 masks as of last week.

Read more: Using the Graduation approach to uplift refugees in a changing world: An Interview with UNHCR’s Ziad Ayoubi 

Sayeka produces 25 to 30 masks each day and earns BDT 15 (USD 0.18) for each, totalling approximately BDT 8,000 (USD 94.25) per month.

Orders for the masks are continuing to come in, and Sayeka and her friends are busy.

“The learning centre has helped me realise that I can rely on myself,” Sayeka says. Today, she proudly supports her family with her own earnings and has developed a strong community of women whom she now works with and can also rely on outside work.

On #WorldRefugeeDay, these stories reflect the dedication of the 79.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide in improving their own lives as well as those of their host communities. The threat of COVID-19 is exponentially compounded for these people, who are living in situations such as refugee camps.


Shak Jahidur Rahman and Alal Ahmed of BRAC Humanitarian Crisis Management Programme have contributed to this piece. 

*Name has been changed to preserve identity

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