When COVID-19 arrived in Mali, it quickly interrupted lives and livelihoods in the peri-urban communities we serve. Most families with whom we work make their livings in the informal sector. The first COVID-19 prevention measures put into place in Mali significantly restricted their work.
But since 2018, we have worked with women to develop more accessible livelihoods through activities which they can control and are closer to their homes. With resources in their hands, women can make decisions that improve the health and wellbeing of their children and families. They can purchase nutritious food, buy soap and other prevention measures, seek healthcare, and enroll their children in school.
While our savings groups could not meet safely at this critical moment, the cooperatives, already equipped with PPE and operating in open outdoor spaces, could. Now, they are not only operating, they are growing.
In those early days as COVID-19 began to spread globally, we encouraged the soap-producing cooperatives to begin making as much soap as they could. Whatever they did not sell to their neighbors, we purchased and provided to our partner health centers and distributed to families most in need.
As the threat of COVID became clear, we decided to help women start sewing masks, using local cotton fabric. Our team quickly identified 30 women who already had basic sewing skills. We helped them to incorporate their cooperative and secure 5 sewing machines, along with the materials they would need. A very big thanks to Women International Leaders of Greater Philadelphia for the funds to purchase the equipment and materials.
The cooperative got started quickly and set the prices of adult masks at about $2 (1000 FCFA) and child masks at about $1 (600 FCFA). Mali Health was one of their first order; we purchased more masks for the staff at our CSCom partners in Bamako and Sikasso. As with the other cooperatives we have supported, the sewing cooperative not only provides much-needed revenue to families during the pandemic, they are also making very valuable resources available and accessible to peri-urban communities were resources are extremely limited.
We are even taking steps forward in helping the women who will lead a new union to support the cooperatives. In collaboration with the Direction Régionale du Développement Social et de l’Economie Solidaire du District de Bamako, women will receive training in leadership and management skills to help them develop and lead a resource of their own. Creating an association allows them to support and grow their cooperatives, while helping more women in peri-urban communities to launch cooperatives of their own. Stay tuned for more details!