Young women pioneer a mask drive in rural areas

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“What would seem as basic to other people as buying a R10 or R20 mask may not be basic to other people…”

A law graduate advocates for the wearing of protective masks

Lend a Hand, is a mask drive initiative pioneered by Zimasa Binca and Zandile Ngcukana, who have their roots in Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape.

“Help pensioners with a mask to protect them during this pandemic” reads their slogan.

The new reality that the entire world is confronted with, has forced everyone to adjust and adopt new behaviours. The wearing of masks ceased to be an optional matter, and became mandatory. In some parts of South Africa, buying a mask has not been as easy as one would assume. It is such reality that this mask drive came to existence. “What would seem as basic to other people as buying a R10 or R20 mask may not be basic to other people, especially in my home town which is rural”, says Binca.

“Witnessing anchors of our society using scarfs and bra cups which are not sufficiently protective as masks, forced me to see it necessary to lend a hand and give out masks and help the pensioners to minimise the risks of contracting the virus”, says Binca.

 Adding to this, Binca reveals that the idea behind giving out masks to the elderly emanates from the fact that they are a vulnerable group and most of them are relying only on pension grant. “The truth is, not every grant beneficiary will be able to buy a R25, R30 and R40 mask”, she says. As a result, these prices have given grounds to the wearing of scarfs, handkerchiefs etc. She further states that there are grannies that take care of ten or more grandchildren with their grants. This makes it virtually impossible to afford to buy even a R25 mask.

The Mask Drive co-founder, Zandile Ngcukana

The virus has been running amok for months on end, yet great deals of elderly people are still not in possession of at least one mask.  The financial state and heavy dependency on grants cripples their ability to buy protective masks. Another aspect that is deserving of urgent attention is the lack of information.  

The information concerning the virus has been largely disseminated through radio and television. Little thought, if at all has been given to the fact that not all rural elderly people have access to television or radio. Yet, they are anticipated to be amply knowledgeable about how they should deter the spread of the virus. It is therefore, impossible to divorce lack of information and financial constraints from the wearing of inappropriate masks.

The popular opinion among those who have lost touch with the reality of rural areas claim that rural people do not follow the protocols put in place by health practitioners. However, the truth of the matter is, how many people have been oriented about how necessary it is for them to change their behaviours, how many have been taught on the right way to wear and take off the masks.

Binca recalls an incident when she was the only person with a mask in a taxi and how that made her uncomfortable due to feeling like an outcast. “A few months back I was travelling home from P.E and in a taxi to my village, I felt like I didn’t belong here as I was the only person wearing a mask” shares Binca.

To date, no activism has been done around covid-19, rather people are flooded with deaths stats every day, and they have become numb, so much that the numbers do not startle them anymore.  “I feel like people in small towns are neglected, people here are not adequately educated and have little knowledge about this pandemic. Yes, they do know there’s coronavirus, but they lack knowledge as to how they can fully protect them”, explains Binca.

Challenges

Financial problems and emerging initiatives are inclined to be inseparable. The notion of starting the mask drive was not nurtured and financially planned for. It just sprouted as a result of the desire to deter the elderly from falling prey to covid-19. For such a reason, there is no solid sponsor for the initiative as yet.  Binca reveals that, at the moment, Lend a Hand donations come from a handful of people, such as family members and friends, as well as from their own pockets. “Their donations are the wheels keeping the initiative going”, she says.

Among many, one of the leading challenges that this mask drive is facing, is transportation of masks. This is due to the fact that, mask manufacturers are based in Bloemfontein and Johannesburg. This proximity gap requires transport and courier services need to be paid for. “Because we don’t have a steady sponsorship, we do not have money to pay for courier services. However, some taxi drivers have come to our aid and have managed to get masks delivered by them”, elaborates Binca.

Volunteering

Upon learning about the mask drive, two chefs decided to avail their services and offered to play their part by making soup which will be given to grannies while queuing for their grants. “There is another young man who promised to make us 10 masks every day until the day of distribution”, reveals Binca.

With the little they have, accompanied by good intentions, the mask drive pioneers have attracted good Samaritans. Swazi Africa which is a company that makes masks and they are among the people who makes masks for us and they have also cut down their original price toaccommodate our budget” explains Binca. She further explains that “there is a friend of mine who makes us masks at R15 and another one has bought masks in Johannesburg and sent them here”.

Goals and future plans

Since the idea of giving out masks was evoked by the desire to minimise the risk of catching and combating covid-19 among senior citizens, the first distribution of masks will occur on Tuesday, the 4th of August, as this will be the day when the elderly collect their pension grant.

“Our future goal is to see to it that everyone in Sterkspruit is in possession of a protective face mask.  We take it upon ourselves that should we spot someone without a protective mask, we will provide them with one,” concludes Binca.

For more information about The Mask Drive and how you can donate or volunteer, please contact Zimasa Binca at 0791238206 (secretary) or Zandile Ngcukana (chairperson) at 0633169263.

By Vuyokazi Mdlungu

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