LUSAKA – In five provinces across 40 sites, 240 young Zambian women are using their sewing skills to make face masks in response to COVID-19. These young women are members of the U.S. government’s Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS free, Mentored, and Safe (DREAMS) Kozo Initiative. Originally trained to sew reusable menstrual hygiene products, the Kozo girls began sewing cloth face masks within weeks of the government’s mandate to wear masks in public spaces in response to the growing demand from their communities.
The Kozo masks are sold to community members for five Kwacha (K 5) each, and to corporate clients for K 10 each. Equipped with sewing machines and business skills, these young women are helping protect their communities from the transmission of COVID-19 while increasing their financial independence. “It has helped me to support my family to buy bread . . . I don’t need to depend on anyone,” says Barbara from the Chelstone DREAMS Center.
These young women plan to increase production to over 5,000 masks every two weeks, generating an estimated income of K25,000 on a bi-weekly basis. In addition to selling masks, the DREAMS centers also provide free masks to vulnerable young women who are unable to purchase one. “Our mask production has made it easy for the community to access masks to protect themselves from getting the virus,” said Martha, from the Chelstone DREAMS Center.
Through the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the U.S. government, since 2016 has invested over $42 million in the DREAMS program in Zambia, the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Peace Corps, jointly implement. There are over 480,00 DREAMS beneficiaries in Zambia, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, DREAMS continues to provide critical services, including family planning and HIV testing.