ISF’s Sewing Team Fights COVID-19 with Style
What do you get when you mix Cambodian culture, a global pandemic and creativity? The answer: stylish face masks made by our talented sewing team at ISF Chbar Ampov.
Cambodia may have been spared the worst of the COVID-19 crisis in terms of infections, but the economic impact has been disastrous. A number of ISF students’ parents work in factories, many of which have closed due to supply chain disruption and the global recession.
Our sewing team is made up of parents who are personally impacted by these challenges. Nonetheless, ISF, our staff, and our sewing team are determined to use their endless creativity to overcome these challenges. It’s the same spirit that fuelled the creation of Social Distance Football, our version of the game with rules aimed at keeping players separate and safe. It’s also what led the sewing team to create these masks.
Even though face masks have provoked debate across the world, almost every country now promotes them to slow the spread of the virus. Like many Asian countries, Cambodia had a rehearsal for this crisis with the SARS outbreak. So many people have habitually worn masks since January. However, eight months later, we have seen some mask fatigue creep in.
To combat the trend and protect the health of vulnerable communities, our tailors have created an attractive, tailored and very Cambodian range of masks. Keen observers will recognise the material and pattern from krama scarves, which are a huge part of Cambodia’s cultural fabric. We want people to enjoy wearing them while also expressing themselves.
Each hand made face mask is waterproof and washable
“The sewing team used to make very simple things like bracelets. But over the last twelve months they have become very skilled in making t-shirts and uniforms as well. Though when COVID began, there wasn’t so much demand,” explains Somphos, social worker and team leader. “Yet we knew many people needed face masks, so we decided to try to make them.”
“At first I didn’t think I could do it!” laughs Sochanna, 35, one of the team. “It’s a difficult design to get right so the wearer can breathe easily and is also safe. So we hand cut it, tested it and got it right so everyone says they like to wear it.”
Not only is the project helping the sewing team continue to earn money and learn new skills, but it’s also helping weavers in Kandal Province. With many local people suffering economically and no tourists buying them as souvenirs, demand for kramas has plummeted. The weavers were happy to find a new market for them.
The masks are waterproof and washable, which has made them a hit in local marketplaces. They can now frequently be seen around the city. “I’m so happy we had the idea to make these masks,” says Sochanna. “I lost my job in a factory because of COVID-19 and was very worried, but now I’m actually learning much more in this job. I also love the fact that we are keeping people healthy.”