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Gambian Returnees Produce 50,000 Face Masks for Schools

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By Ndey Sowe

Photo: Demba is one of 36 returnees who helped produce 50,000 face masks 

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has on 5th March 2021, handed over 15,000 face masks to the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE), the final batch of 50,000 masks produced by returnees.

With the rate of COVID-19 infections in The Gambia increasing since the start of the year, the need to support students to safely go back to school is growing more urgent.

The initiative was made possible through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration, funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.

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36 returnees in the Kanifing Municipal Council, Upper River Region and West Coast Region were identified and trained to produce the masks in compliance with guidelines by the Gambia Standards Bureau, which also certified the masks.

Miko Alazas, Media and Communications Officer for International Organization for Migration (IOM), said they have partnered with Mbolo Association to train the returnees on sanitization, quality control and packaging – maximizing their tailoring skills to contribute to COVID-19 response efforts.

He added that this helped to generate much needed income as the pandemic widespread economic impact risks undermining gains returnees have made in reintegrating back home.

He remarked: “Through the Joint Initiative, the returnees were previously trained on tailoring and received start-up kits as part of their reintegration assistance.”

“I see many benefits of this initiative. I can provide for myself and my family while doing something good for my country,” said Demba Sallah, one of the 36 returnees involved in the production of the face mask.

The masks will be soon rolled out in schools nationwide, starting with West Coast Region.

“With the recent surge in the COVID-19 infection rate, the Ministry redoubles its efforts to ensure that our schools remain safe. The donation of face masks, therefore, cannot come at a better time as it complements the Ministry’s continuous fight against the spread of the disease,” pronounced H.E. Claudiana Cole, Minister of Basic and Secondary Education.

“Thanks to this, we are saving people’s lives and supporting the government’s efforts,” added Foday Njie.

The Media and Communications Officer for IOM highlighted that in May 2020, 20 returnees also led the production of 2,000 personal protective equipment and shoe coverings, used by frontline immigration and border officials.

“The goal of the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has always been to save lives and protect migrants. During the pandemic, it has been inspiring to see returnees take the initiative to protect others as part of their reintegration,” remarked H.E. Corrado Pampaloni, the European Union Ambassador to The Gambia. “Thanks to their highly-appreciated work, 50,000 students will be able to return to school safely.”

“The production of 50,000 face masks in a short span of time is a remarkable feat,” echoed Fumiko Nagano, IOM’s Chief of Mission in The Gambia. “Time and time again, we see the commitment of returnees – and migrants in general – to lend their expertise toward the nation’s needs. Conversely, we should account for migrants’ needs in all components of our response plans.”

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