Patna: Thousands of Jeevika Didi have been fighting COVID-19 with a difference – by making masks on a large scale in Bihar. It is not only helping them to earn a livelihood, but their cost effective masks are being distributed among rural people, mainly the poor, to fight the novel coronavirus and to combat its spread.
The Jeevika Didi have also played an important role in creating awareness against COVID-19. They have been preparing homemade herbal sanitiser for daily use and have made about 2.20 crore masks in the last two months.
The work has come as a livelihood opportunity for the Jeevika Didi, most of whom are from poor families which were struggling to survive after the lockdown began in March, as their husbands were rendered jobless.
Kavita Devi, Sapna Devi, Shabina Khatoon and Radha Devi, all Jeevika Didi, are four of thousands of such workers.The Jeevika programme was launched by the state government with the assistance of the World Bank in 2006. Jeevika promotes rural livelihoods and enhances social and economic empowerment of the poor, particularly women.
“We are able to earn two rupees per mask. We have to make at least between 50 and 100 masks daily to manage the family during a pandemic, with my husband without any work,” said Kavita from Nalanda district.
Kavita said that dozens of women from her village and from the neighbouring villages have joined hands to make masks.
Similarly, Sapna said her husband – a migrant worker – returned home during the lockdown after the factory in which he was employed in Haryana shut down. “I may not be earning much but I am earning enough to cook food for the family. If there was no mask-making we could have faced the fear of hunger,” said Sapna, a resident of a village in Dulhin Bazar in Patna district.
Balamurugan Devaraj, CEO-cum-State Mission Director of the Jeevika program, said that they had begun making masks as soon as the lockdown began. “The result is that they have prepared more than 2 crore masks in a short period,” he said.
Balamurgan said the Jeevika Didi are not making masks for free since it involves cost of material and their wages. They make the masks after an order is placed by government agencies or elected panchayat representatives. “There is a huge demand for masks prepared by them since they are of good quality and are cost effective,” he added.
By early July, Jeevika Didis of nearly 29,000 Self-Help Groups (SHGs), mainly comprising women in villages, had prepared a huge numbers of masks.
Several government agencies and private firms, including South Bihar Power Distribution company, have purchased masks for their staff. Similarly banks and NGOs have also placed orders for masks prepared by them.
According to official figures, there are nearly 9.50 lakh self-help groups(SHGs) in the state. Lakhs of Jeevika Didis are working at the grass-root level in thousands of villages. They play an important part in mobilising women from their respective villages.
According to officials of Jeevika, the need for an alternate source of livelihood came about due to the lockdown. “It was a coincidence that some of them came forward with the idea to prepare masks, which were in high demand,” said an official.
With several ongoing schemes or projects halted due to COVID-19, the majority of Jeevika Didi were without work. The mask-making exercise came as a boon.
All the district magistrates have been instructed by the government to provide raw material to SHGs to help Jeevika Didis to prepare masks.The three-layer mask made by a Jeevika Didi costs Rs 15.
Last week, the state government made masks mandatory and decided to impose a fine of Rs 50 on people found not wearing face masks at offices and in public places. It resulted in the growth of demand for masks.
A notification issued by the state’s health department on July 3 also said that people flouting the norm would be given two masks free of cost to motivate them to cover their face.
With COVID-19 cases growing in Bihar, the Fear is palpable. What is alarming is that positive cases are now being reported from rural areas, which had been untouched till recently.
Bihar has 11,864 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 90 deaths till Monday.