CAR

Saving lives with face masks made in post-conflict Central African Republic

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Key Numbers:

  • 2.4 million masks were produced in record time

  • 1.6 million workdays were generated

In the Central African Republic, where years of prolonged violence and conflict have ravaged the country’s health care system, an innovative approach is saving lives and putting people to work. As the global COVID-19 pandemic bore down on the country, the government made the difficult decision to mandate the use of facial masks. Like many countries, however, they were faced with a dearth of masks in local and international markets. The IDA supported LONDO project was able to quickly rise to the challenge, locally producing more than 2.4 million masks in record time.

The LONDO project is the largest cash-for-work program in the country, supporting stabilization and social cohesion in a war-torn country through temporary employment. Usually, it carries out small infrastructure works and road maintenance, which are critical in a country where young people are particularly vulnerable to recruitment into armed groups and violence. As the COVID-19 crisis shakes the country’s economy and fragile stability, potentially pushing more than 140,000 people into extreme poverty, according to recent World Bank estimates, the project’s ability to rapidly adapt to meet the critical need of the moment is even more important.

The LONDO project, and its transition to mask making, is an extraordinary solution provided by simply leveraging the local resources available. The initiative to make 10 million masks—providing two free masks to every citizen—is providing livelihoods to 18,000 tailors, will generate more than 1.6 million workdays, and should inject about $17 million into the local economy.

“I can make up to 700 masks a week,” Amal Soulemayne says with a smile.

Ms. Soulemayne is a seamstress by training and the mother of four, whose husband was killed as a result of the violence in the country. She was recently recruited as part of the LONDO project’s mask initiative.

“This seed that they have sown in my life is germinating and will mature durably and invariably.”

With the money she earned, Ms. Soulemayne started repairs on the makeshift house where she lives with her children. She plans to use the rest of her savings to open her own sewing workshop one day.

For Soulemayne, and other citizens of this vulnerable country, cash-for-work programs offer an opportunity to secure a better and safer future. The LONDO project has been successful in providing access to a livelihood many, while also supporting small businesses and contributing to a life-saving public health effort. This is all working together to help the Central African Republic prepare for recovery and build peace in the country.