‘Masks for Refugees by Refugees’ project takes off in Ghana

UNHCR has partnered with Abrantie, a Ghanaian Fashion Designer and UNHCR High-Level Influencer, to train refugees to produce face masks in efforts to combat COVID-19.

Refugee tailors and seamstresses making masks at the Ampain Camp
© UNHCR/PFolley

Sirge Allen furrows his brow in concentration as he leans over a sewing machine. The Ivorian refugee tailor is glad to be back to doing what he loves most – sewing.
Allen ran a busy tailoring shop in Ampain camp in the Western Region of Ghana, before tragedy struck. He lost all items in his shop in a fire outbreak. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic which made things more difficult.

“Things were already difficult for me after the fire. Just when I was trying to get back on my feet, COVID -19 came and made things worse”

Allen Sirge

Beside him, Kourou Miezan is equally hard at work. The Ivorian refugee was forced to close his shop for about two months as customers were not coming in for new clothes.
“Since the pandemic, people were not attending events,” says Kourou, who had about 22 apprentices he was working with.

But the tide has turned for the refugee tailors who are now participating in a project dubbed ‘Masks for Refugees by Refugees’, an initiative by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency in Ghana supported by

Oheneba Yaw Boamah, a Ghanaian fashion designer and head of bespoke fashion brand, Abrantie the Gentleman.

The project, which has commissioned the work of 40 refugee tailors and seamstresses, including Allen and Kourou, is expected to produce about 35,000 masks to be distributed to refugees in Ghana and some members of the host community, while creating economic opportunities for refugees.

Another group of 100 refugees will be in charge of ironing and packaging the masks under hygienic conditions. They will use locally available fabrics to produce reusable masks following FDA specifications.

Oheneba Yaw Boamah, who is popularly known as Abrantie, is a High-Level Influencer and supporter for UNHCR in Ghana. He took the refugee tailors through a one-day training session in Ampain refugee camp and held another session in the capital, Accra, for refugees living in urban areas.

“I am honoured to use my skills as a fashion designer to help refugees make masks by themselves,” said Abrantie. “I am so happy to have been able to do this.”

Prior to the practical sewing sessions, Abrantie interacted with the tailors and taught them a few techniques to help them stand out in the market and get better returns for their work. He spoke to them about fabrics, how to work with patterns and how to be creative with designs.

He also called on Ghanaians to support refugees, especially in these difficult times.

Esther Kiragu, UNHCR’s Representative in Ghana, emphasized the importance of the economic opportunities that the initiative has presented for refugees, adding that it will help improve their resilience, especially during the pandemic, which has badly affected most refugee businesses.

“These are tough times as COVID-19 has made things really difficult for some of the refugees,” she said. “I am happy that through this project, they will be able to earn something to support themselves and their families.”

Esther Kiragu, UNHCR Ghana Representative

Ms. Kiragu added that UNHCR and its partners saw it fit to champion this project as part of its COVID-19 response efforts, while highlighting the contributions of refugees in the fight against the pandemic.

The participants went through a sanitation and hygiene session prior to the start of the project and observe all the COVID-19 hygiene measures. UNHCR has also acquired certification from the FDA to ensure the masks meet the required standards and are safe for use.

Ms. Kiragu added that UNHCR will explore the potential of converting the waste from the mask production into a resource.

“The waste will be converted into handcrafts like doormats, bags and sandals for sale. This will offer the refugees a unique opportunity to be creative,” she explained.

The refugees now look forward to enhancing their work opportunities through the project.

“This project is really a lifeline for me now,” says Allen. “I have learnt how to make masks in a better way and other tailoring tips which I will use in my work.”

Allen sirge

Kourou agrees.

“This project will help put money in the pockets of refugees,” he adds with a smile.