IIT Mandi and EWOK Society launch Maitri Mask Abhiyaan to manufacture masks during COVID-19 pandemic

Mandi: Indian Institute of Technology Mandi along with Enabling Women of Kamand (EWOK) Society of IIT Mandi has launched Maitri Mask Abhiyaan. Maitri Masks (Friendship Masks) are good quality reusable and washable cotton masks made by women in Kamand valley during COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking about the initiative, Dr. Priscilla Gonsalves, Chief Advisor, EWOK Society, IIT Mandi, said, “It’s great to see the way the local community has pulled together to protect our health. When EWOK was having difficulty finding material, Mr. Chirag Vaidya of Mandi immediately offered to supply cloth for the first 150 masks free of charge. In the Kamand valley, Ms. Urmila from Katindhi has been organising the women and the procurement of materials, and the local women enthusiastically agreed to donate their first day’s labour to the cause.”

Under this initiative, IIT Mandi and EWOK Society are sourcing and providing close knit cotton to the Mahila mandals (women groups) and guiding them in making effective cloth masks in compliance with the recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA, and the Government of India. Along with this, special guidance is being provided to these groups on precautions to be followed before mask making. These include using hand sanitizer before starting the work on manufacturing the mask and wearing masks while maintaining social distance with fellow workers.

The masks are available in 2 ply (layers) and 3 ply (layers). IIT Mandi’s Multiscale Fabrication and Nonotechnology lab has provided extensive support to the EWOK Society in testing these masks. The masks have more than 50% efficiency for catching droplets and dust. Apart from this, EWOK Society is working extensively in spreading awareness in the community, including panchayats of Kamand, Katindhi, Kataula and Navlaya about correct usage and sanitization of cotton masks. EWOK Society also connects with the panchayat heads to distribute awareness flyers.

Speaking about the role of Mahila mandals (women groups), Ms. Urmila, Liaison Associate, EWOK Society, said, “Maitri Mask Abhiyaan is making women aware of how to protect their families and localities from Coronavirus. The women groups are doing very noble work by manufacturing masks.”

It is notable that production of the masks has started with women groups from 4 villages and EWOK Society is working on expanding it to 15 villages in the coming weeks while catering to orders from construction companies, IIT Mandi departments and surrounding panchayats. This is being managed by the women groups with EWOK Society and IIT Mandi’s guidance and over 500 masks have already been provided to the companies employing migrant workers and more orders are in progress. The current production rate of the masks is 150 per day and will scale up to 300-400 per day with an increase in orders. The expected number of beneficiaries under the Maitri Mask Abhiyaan is 2500 to 3500.

Enabling Women of Kamand (EWOK) is an initiative of IIT Mandi Women’s Center to help rural women set up small enterprises in 5 panchayats of Kamand, Kataula, Katindhi, Batheri and Navlaya in Mandi district by providing them guidance, training and information. With a vision to enable women of the Kamand area to grasp the opportunities provided and grow their skills for income generation, EWOK is trying to establish a model in which it evaluates the skills and aspirations of rural women based upon which a personalised plan can be prepared to groom their skill set. Since its inception, EWOK has supported 12 women entrepreneurs and as a result generated employment for more than 65 people of the Kamand region. In 2019, EWOK got registered as a society. IIT Mandi along with EWOK Society recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the National Bank For Agriculture And Rural Development (NABARD) for collaboration on setting up Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh. NABARD has sanctioned an amount of Rs. 35 lakhs to IIT Mandi and EWOK Society to promote and set up 3 FPOs in a period of next 3 years.