USAID Trains War Widows in Northeast Nigeria to Produce Facemasks That Protect Against COVID-19

Maiduguri, Nigeria – The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Office of Transition Initiatives is supporting training for women, mostly widowed or otherwise made vulnerable by the Boko Haram insurgency, to produce protective facemasks to help protect the population from the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria’s conflict-affected Northeast.

After an initial round of trainings by professional tailors, about 200 women in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, were able to produce 4,000 masks in a week’s time from Ankara, a traditional fabric of the region, to both encourage the use of masks among the general population and increase local production.

The colorful wax-print masks are produced in sizes for adults and children and in various layered designs. The masks were presented to the Borno State government for distribution to the public at the popular Monday market in Maiduguri where the use of face masks has been mandated.  The masks were given to individuals who visited the market on 27 April.

On April 23, a delegation of Borno state officials including commissioners of Women’s Affairs and Social development and Transport, and officials from the state Incidence and Prevention Control’s COVID-19 committee visited the women at the vocational training center, where they gave their approval of the quality of facemasks produced and appreciated the women’s efforts to control the spread of the pandemic.

“We commend this initiative to provide our people with these washable and reusable masks for their health and safety,” said Zuwaira Gambo, Borno’s Commissioner of Women’s Affairs and Social Development.  “This program economically empowers widows and vulnerable women during the lockdown, and the masks help encourage people to prevent the spread of coronavirus.”

The training was implemented through USAID’s Nigeria Lake Chad Basin (NLCB) program, and will also include training in production of Ankara shoes and bags, as well as food processing.  NCLB designed the activity well before the COVID outbreak and refocused the training to respond to the urgent pandemic response in Borno.  Through additional training, more cohorts of women are anticipated to produce another 50,000 masks in the coming weeks.