Things That Matter

Indigenous Groups In Oaxaca Are Making Their Own Face Masks From Palms And Donating Them To Those Who Need Them Most

All around the world, masks are in short supply. And as more and more governments require their residents to wear masks whenever they go outside, a mask is a must-have accessory at this point.

In Los Angeles, you won’t be allowed inside supermarkets without one. In Mexico City, you aren’t allowed on the Metro (yes, it’s still running). In some parts of Latin America, you can be fined for simply leaving the house without wearing one.

Thankfully, communities around the world have sprung into action and have started making masks.

A group of Indigenous women in Mexico’s Oaxaca state have started weaving facial masks out of palms to protect their community.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, one group of Oaxaca women are doing good by their community and working to make masks from a local material that grows in abundance across the state – palm fronds.

The women, who normally work as artesanas, are helping impoverished Indigenous communities grapple with the threat of Covid-19. They’re weaving thousands of masks every week because of the scarcity and high-cost of surgical masks.

Images shot in Nochixtlán, a region home to a large Mixtec population, show the women separating the palm leaves into strips and weaving the masks one by one. It’s labor-intensive work but it’s paying off. The vast majority of the communities of Mixteca region, which has high rates of migration, marginalisation and poverty, are dedicated to making handicrafts from palm leaves, such as hats and mats.

“With this mask it is easier because you can wash it the same way, you can reuse it again, on the other hand the other one cannot be washed because it then becomes ugly. It is faster and cheaper, because now the masks are very expensive to buy,” said Serapia Lopez Lopez, one of the artisans.

Not only are they making them for their own community, they’ve also donated 5,000 to other Indigenous groups across Mexico.

Credit: International Indigenous Youth Council / Facebook

As Mexico has struggled to come up with much-needed medical supplies for healthcare workers and the public alike, this group of women are reaching out to help others.

Aside from taking their own time to create valuable face masks for their own community, they’re also sharing the masks with other Indigenous groups across the country. So far the group has donated more than 5,000 masks with plans to donate another 5,000.

Although Mexico hasn’t been hit as hard as much of the world by the Covid-19 pandemic, many say it’s just a matter of time.

So far, Mexico has almost 5,500 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 400 people have died. However, when compared to other countries in the region – especially the United States just to the country’s north – these numbers are low.

However, Mexico’s own health experts admit that due to low adherence to social distancing standards, the country is still on the curve up – meaning conditions will likely get worse before they begin to improve.

Meanwhile, the Zapoteca community is making masks out of traditional Indigenous designs and fabrics.

Credit: Diana Maza / Flickr

A duo in the Oaxacan city of Juchitan, have been creating cubre bocas using the traditional patterned designs of the Zapotec Indigenous community. They’re been able to combat the spread of Covid-19 while also helping support their traditional clothing brand, Gexa Boutique.

Seeing that their business sales were dropping due to the epidemic, they decided to use the fabrics and make the masks that include four protections: a cloth filter, a protective film, a satin cloth and the designed one.

To achieve the masks, the artisans were advised by nurses who guided them in the way and the sanitary measures they should have, which is why they have been acquired even by medical personnel from the Isthmus region.

So far, the couple have made more than 1,500 masks with guidance from the medical community, which is why they’ve even been bought by medical personnel from the region. Each masks costs $30 pesos (about $1.50 USD) and they’re both reusable and washable.

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