The whirring sound of sewing machines is breathing life into the facility that hasn’t seen much activities since the outbreak of COVID- 19. There are familiar faces in the sewing center — young women I have known since November 2019. I am glad to see them busy again. They have teamed up with many other women from other cooperatives outside the center. The other women are working from the big tent that used to host weddings and other events. The spacious tent enables them to sit at least one meter apart and avoid congestion. They wash their hands frequently. Their machines are sanitized regularly. Their hair is covered and each one of them is wearing a mask.
These women are experienced tailors but sewing face masks is something new to them. After a three-day intensive training program, they got down to business. The project, funded by the Mastercard Foundation, is set to produce 40,000 masks in ten days for the benefit of the community.
A lot has changed since the last time I was here. Desks of the neighboring primary school are gathering dust and so are the chairs in the local church. On the highway, police cars can be seen escorting trucks ferrying goods from the port of Dar es Salaam. This is in line with the new regional transport protocol.
Urugo Roadside Café is closed. The roadside gift shops are closed too. The entire center has been closed for a while, with the dairy production unit being the only exception.
I have been covering Urugo entrepreneurs since November 2019. Their individual journeys have inspired me. After a long time of restrictions of movements, I was looking forward to seeing them again but, as mentioned above, a lot has changed. Our social interaction is not the same. Our customary hugs and cheek pecks have been replaced by elbow bumps.
There is no sign of life in the artisans’ workshops. The cultural experiences and the traditional dance spectacles have faded into memories. However, for the first time since these drastic changes took effect, the center is busy again. About one hundred women are doing what they do best: sewing.
Mukayezu Odette from Mukarange Sector in Kayonza District is grateful for the opportunity to work again. She is a member of a cooperative known as Agakiriro Kayonza. “It hasn’t been easy to find work during these difficult times. I appreciate the efforts made by the Urugo Women’s Opportunity Center and Gahaya Links to secure this gig for us. I am also grateful to the Mastercard Foundation for the much-needed financial support.” She says.
After successfully completing her training program in 2019, Kabazayirwa Gisele started working at the center. 2020 looked promising until a dramatic turn of events culminated in the closure of the center. During the lockdown, she turned her attention to her kitchen garden and other small-scale farming projects. When an opportunity to make masks for the benefit of the destitute members of her community presented itself, she grabbed it. “I am happy to be part of this initiative.” She says.