In A Time Of COVID-19, A Refugee Tailor In Kuala Lumpur Gives Back To The City
Sajad at his workplace
© UNHCR Malaysia / Victor Chan
“When people who don’t know us have helped us for no reason, why shouldn’t we respond in the same way?”
This was 27 year old Afghan refugee, Sajad’s reply when asked why he decided to sew Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical front liners who are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in Malaysia. To Sajad, this was his way of using his skills to give back to Malaysia.
Sajad has been a refugee all his life.
“My parents left Afghanistan for Iran to avoid persecution. I was born in Iran, raised there, and got married there,” he said. “Most of my family members were in the tailoring industry there so I decided to learn it and support my family this way.”
Fearing persecution in Iran, Sajad and his family fled to Malaysia in 2015.
After a period of adjustment, Sajad enrolled in a training run by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to help refugees find opportunities for self-reliance. This eventually led him to join a tailoring programme run by an NGO.
“This NGO asked me to work with them, sewing things like clothes and bags. I was happy working there. I earned an allowance, and I could support my family,” said Sajad.
When the Movement Control Order (MCO) commenced in Malaysia in mid-March 2020, Sajad found himself idle at home and eager to contribute.
He received a call from a social enterprise asking whether he would be interested to sew PPEs for medical front liners, and Sajad immediately jumped at the opportunity to help.
At that time, he didn’t even ask about the stipend or work hours. He was just excited at the prospect of finally being able to do something.
Sajad quickly engaged 20 other skilled tailors from the Afghan refugee community, and the group started sewing medical PPE items including jumpsuits, gowns, head covers, shoe covers, and masks.
“My job here is to supervise other tailors,” said Sajad. “I also make sure everyone follows the hygiene Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).”
This means scheduling work in shifts so as not to crowd their workspace, and donning face masks and head covers.
Working long hours with no days off, in just over two months, the tailors produced over 30,000 pieces of medical PPEs which were distributed to government clinics conducting COVID-19 screenings.
Sajad’s commitment to helping during the pandemic does not end there.
After returning home from his tailoring work, he sits down in front of the computer with a few other Afghan refugee youths and scours the Internet for information on COVID-19 and translates the information into Dari language that is commonly understood by the Afghan community. The translated information and videos are then distributed to the Afghan community via social messaging platforms such as Whatsapp and Telegram.
“My parents are here with me in Malaysia and they are elderly, which means they are in the vulnerable to the virus. They don’t understand English very much, and I know of many others who don’t as well. If I want to protect them, I need to also protect others by sharing knowledge on this Coronavirus, so they can protect themselves,” said Sajad.
Sajad does not mind the hard work volunteering to provide information for his community, on top of the long hours sewing PPEs.
“To be honest, even though I am getting paid to sew PPEs, I would do it for free because I want to give back to society, to Malaysians,” said Sajad.
He reflected on all the acts of kindness his family and community have received from Malaysians.
“I believe that refugees can contribute to the society as we all live together in Malaysia,” Sajad said with a smile on his face.
“This is one of the ways that refugees can give back.”