Migrants Sew Masks for Protection Kits

Date: Friday, November 20, 2020

Owner of Cosido with Love provides other migrants with the opportunity to earn a dignified living. (Photo: Leigh-Ann Brodber, UNRCO)

Port-of-Spain: More than 2,000 face masks sewn by Venezuelan migrants have been purchased by IOM for distribution to vulnerable migrants.

IOM purchased over 2,000 face masks from Darbelis Blanco, a seamstress and owner of Cosido con Amor (Sewn with Love). Blanco, who came to Trinidad and Tobago three years ago, employs seven other Venezuelan migrant women.

“I feel very happy to be able to do this work because it benefits me financially, of course, but it also benefits seven more families,” said Blanco, who has two children of her own.

None of Blanco’s seven employees knew how to sew before they started working at Cosido Con Amor. Blanco said she used video conferencing to teach them basic sewing, since public health regulations for COVID-19 prohibited large gatherings.

“Especially now with the situation so difficult because of the pandemic, we aren’t getting jobs and when I called them and said I have work for them, they were so emotional,” Blanco recalled.

She delivered the masks to IOM Migrant Protection Assistant, Jinesa Sanchez, at the United Nations House on Chancery Lane in Port of Spain.

Blanco’s workshops are teaching migrant women the basics of sewing, and graduates of the program have gone on to sew for Trinidad and Tobago’s local designers. An initiative of the TTV Solidarity Network (TTV SOLNET) and the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) in partnership with UN Women and IOM, the aim of the program is to create a cadre of qualified seamstresses who can be provided with employment by local designers, corporate chains and NGOs. In this vein, successful graduates will also sew approximately 3,000 masks to be included in hygiene and protection kits distributed by UN Women and IOM as a part of the Gender Transformative Humanitarian Response (GTHR) Project.

Blanco said she was grateful that her company’s masks will make their way to other Venezuelan migrants who need the IOM’s assistance.

As part of its work in Trinidad and Tobago, IOM with UN Women’s support, is providing protection kits to Venezuelan migrants who cannot afford to access basic hygiene materials. These kits include face masks, bath towels, wet wipes, detergent, toothbrush, soap, sanitary napkins, shampoo, conditioner, toilet paper, combs, brushes and paper towels.

The protection kits also provide migrants with information on availability for support from UN agencies, NGOs and state agencies, as well as hotline numbers for COVID-19 and domestic violence reports.

IOM is currently engaged in a round of protection kit distribution. More than 1,200 kits will be donated to migrants across Trinidad and Tobago.


Darbelis Blanco delivered masks to IOM Migrant Protection Assistant, Jinesa Sanchez, at the United Nations House (Photo: Leigh-Ann Brodber, UNRCO)


IOM Head of Office in Port of Spain, Jewel Ali, said the IOM is committed to providing vulnerable migrants with emergency assistance as well as vocational training so that they may be able to provide for themselves and their families in a dignified manner. “The results of our 2019 Displacement Tracking Matrix exercise to assess the evolving needs of vulnerable migrants revealed that the number one need of migrants was the ability to access income generation opportunities. More than emergency food, non-food items and shelter, they are also eager for opportunities to earn a living.” she said.

Blanco will be teaching other Venezuelan and Cuban women how to sew in a series of Sewing and Design Workshops starting in November.

UN Women Representative a.i. Tonni Brodber said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exploited vulnerabilities experienced by marginalised groups such as those in migrant and host communities. There have been significant jobs lost particularly within the informal sector, which generally has a majority of women workers. The opportunities for economic empowerment under this project are critically important and UN Women IOM and the US Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration are collaborating on this initiative to ensure in the quest to achieve the SDGs, no one is left behind.”

Heidi Diquez, Founder and Public Relations Officer, TTV SOLNET welcomes the partnership that is aimed at empowering migrants living in Trinidad and Tobago. “TTV Solidarity Network wishes to thank IOM and UN Women for the continued support to our initiative which is aimed at empowering migrants living in Trinidad and Tobago. On this occasion you have given the opportunity to one of our entrepreneur  beneficiaries and operators, Cosido con Amor who has been able to provide income to other Venezuelan migrants. This project and the delivery of these masks would have not been possible without the livelihood and capacity building funding of the Pan American Development Foundation, who has been instrumental to the sustainability of our Textile Learning and Entrepreneurship initiative in Trinidad and Tobago,” she said.