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SELF-SUFFICIENCY. Elham Karami sews a protective face mask at a workshop of Bavar charity in Tehran, Iran. As the coronavirus pandemic ravages Iran, a women’s group hopes to empower its members by helping them make and sell face masks. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

From The Asian Reporter, V31, #2 (February 1, 2021), page 3.

Iranian women’s group empowers amid pandemic by making masks

By Vahid Salemi

The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran — As the coronavirus pandemic ravages Iran, a women’s group hopes to empower its members by helping them make and sell face masks.

The organization called "Bavar," or "Belief" in Farsi, formed in 2016, allowing women looking for work to make handicrafts with donated sewing machines. It gave widows and others a way to earn cash in a country whose anemic economy only worsened since, two years later, President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Sara Chartabian, the founder of Bavar, said the group tries to teach women to be self-sufficient as unemployment and inflation remain high.

"We teach them fishing instead of giving them a fish," Chartabian said.

The pandemic, however, has seen the demand for handicrafts drop. Iran has more than 1.4 million reported cases of the virus, with more than 1.2 million recoveries and nearly 58,000 deaths — with officials acknowledging the true toll could be far higher. Meanwhile, the women in need still had to earn money to support their families.

So the women at Bavar decided to begin making cloth face masks. Today, some 50 women sit with their sewing machines, creating two-ply cloth masks. A third layer can be added with material sold in local pharmacies.

Elham Karami, a 41-year-old woman who works five days a week to support her two sons, said she makes around 10,000 rials (3 U.S. cents) for each face mask she sews. Clients for Bavar include companies and others.

"I am grateful for this (organization) because they turned me into a skilled tailor for free," Karami said. "They allowed me to use a sewing machine to learn how to sew. They also provided materials for me to work on."

Depending on the order size, Bavar then sells the masks for as much as 250,00 rials (96 U.S. cents) apiece.

In Iran, where the capital of Tehran has been hard-hit by the virus, authorities have mandated mask-wearing. While fines for not wearing a mask remain low and poorly enforced, the public increasingly has been seen wearing them.

Chartabian said Bavar’s sales help support buying materials, sewing machines, and other matters. The organization also provides women with psychological counselling and other support. She declined to offer specific sales figures for the masks so far, but said every bit helped support women in need.

"Maybe the money is not so much, but we provide them services such as psychological counselling and also equipment," she said.

"One Good Thing" is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of

joy in hard times — stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small.

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Painter Yolande Labaki, 93, holds dolls she made to be distributed to children who might have lost their toys amid the destruction or who had otherwise had their lives touched by the Beirut seaport blast in August 2020, at her home in Beirut, Lebanon. After the massive explosion devastated Beirut, Labaki made 100 dolls for children affected by the destruction. (Yolande Labaki via AP, File)

From The Asian Reporter, V31, #2 (February 1, 2021), pages 3 & 5.

Woman’s salve for devastation f Lebanese blast: 100 dolls

By Mariam Fam

The Associated Press

In the wake of a massive explosion that devastated Beirut, 93-year-old Yolande Labaki sought a way to help bring healing to the Lebanese capital.

The internationally recognized painter’s solution was to make dolls — 100 of them, distributed to children traumatized or otherwise affected by the destruction.

Her inspiration was another Lebanese tragedy, etched in her memory: the look on the face of one of her grandchildren, then about three, when his home was damaged during the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.

"He saw all his toys on the ground amid the rubble and asked me: ‘Who broke my toys?’ His eyes were filled with tears," she said.

So when a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored at the Beirut port ignited and blew up on August 4 — killing more than 200 people, injuring thousands, and leaving a swath of the city in ruins — Labaki thought of the children, and how "they, too, must be asking who broke their toys."

Labaki gave herself a challenge, and a deadline.

"I said: ‘God, if you give me the power, I will make 100 of these by Christmas,’" she recalled.

And thus began a monthslong labor of love.

Getting the doll’s face just right — she wanted to make sure it wouldn’t scare the children — was difficult. The great-grandmother painstakingly embroidered features using a sewing machine, stuffed fabric with cotton, and tailored tiny dresses. And then non-governmental organizations helped distribute the dolls.

Two went to the daughters of Beirut resident Georges Chlawuit. The blast blew out windows at the family home, he said.

"At least she thought of these poor kids after what has happened in the explosion," he said. "May god keep her and give her good health. If it weren’t for how the Lebanese people came together, we wouldn’t have been able to stand back on our feet again."

His daughters, he said, have been sleeping with their new dolls.

Labaki’s reward: photos with the beaming faces of girls who received her dolls.

"It’s a gift for me more so than it is for the children," she said.

"One Good Thing" is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in hard times — stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small.

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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