“It’s unbelievable that people who come to contact with infected patients need our textile face mask because they don’t have anything else.” says Ilona Tůmová, an assistant in the editorial department of the Salesian publishing house Portál in Prague.
After the declaration of a state of emergency, the Czech Republic was facing a crisis: neither hospitals nor social service establishments had enough personal protective equipment. Ilona and a few other parishioners of the Salesian parish of Saint Therese independently started sewing face masks and created a collection point for medical equipment in the church. Ilona Tůmová started coordinating this effort and founded an initiative called “The Eight Sews Face Masks” (the name refers to their neighborhood, called Prague 8).
“The Eight Sews Face Masks” initiative has connected many volunteers. People bring material for sewing face masks or already-made face masks and other protective equipment to the collection points. Seventy female volunteers sewing face masks from their homes. To find out where they needed the collected equipment, Ilona calls healthcare establishments and volunteers later delivered the material to those who needed it.
“I have seen that the most threatened group of people needs help and neither the State nor City Hall has enough flexibility or possibilities to help them. I knew that I could address those in need and because the Kobylisy parish is big I also had enough people willing to help me. My motivation was to help fast, because when you help fast, you help the most,” Ilona Tůmová explains.
Ilona describes the urgency of the situation in which the hospital personnel did not have enough protective equipment. “I have a daughter, who works in the Intensive Care Unit at the General Teaching Hospital in Prague. We brought them some face masks the very first day, because they had almost no protective equipment – only one one-time face mask for 12-hour shift. As a thank you, the doctors later sent me a picture with our face masks on”.
Ilona adds that her involvement in the project gave her “ a strong feeling that civil society exists and works and that I’m surrounded by good and strong people. When there’s trouble, people get together. Solidarity and togetherness are extremely empowering and the task of us Christians is to be there and be the salt of the earth. It confirmed my belief that we don’t have to be afraid of what is to come, because people are great. And our Salesian parish is the natural center of our neighborhood.”
Facemasks are of vital importance in protecting healthcare workers, however due to their sudden demand from the wider population, supplies quickly dried up
One of the volunteers sewing face masks at home is Lucie Muchová, Ilona's daughter. She is a social worker and currently on maternity leave. Before the declaration of emergency, she and her family went to their cottage in the country where they have now been for over a month. She decided to fill her free time with voluntary help and sewed around one hundred face masks. “I felt that I must help, and sewing was one of the ways I could help fight the threat. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure if it really was that necessary, but during the first week I understood that it makes sense and it is needed.”
Lucie describes the reactions she saw: “We supported each other in sewing. We saw that there is a lack of face masks and other protective equipment. Doctors and nurses were unbelievably grateful, and we got a lot of support from the citizens, too. Our main driving force was solidarity and mutual help.”
For Lucie, this volunteer experience has given her a real sense of community involvement. “We left Prague, which is in the center of the main activity. Here in the country, you wouldn’t even notice that there is some emergency situation going on. The voluntary help gave me a good feeling, a feeling that I could do something to help solving the emergency, even from afar.”
Over 7,700 face masks have been sewed and distrubuted, across a newtwork of about one hundred volunteers. Each of them sewed on average 70 face masks, although the most active volunteer managed to sew 670 of them. Behind their work, there is a lot of time, energy, private finances, material but also broken sewing machines. All that is a proof that during those three weeks, “The Eight Sews Face Masks” initiative has managed to do a massive amount of work!
During Mary's month of May, Salesian Youth Ministry is inviting you to take part in an arts and crafts challenge dedicated to Mary!