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A designer and personal stylist, Syrian refugee in Brazil makes cloth masks to the vulnerable population of São Paulo with support of UNFPA

27 Abril 2020
Hayam takes five minutes to make a mask (Photo: personal archive)

Hayam Kasim, 29 years old, is part of a group called Creative Displacement. She has already produced 450 face masks under the supervision of the University of Campinas and the public Labour Prosecution Service

Hayam Kasim was studying french and fashion design in Damasco, Syria, and was on her way to becoming a professional personal stylist when the war pushed her family to leave the country. Living in São Paulo for seven years now, with no fluency in Portuguese and without any job opportunities, she and her three brothers were surprised by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a way she couldn’t imagine, her talents are now available to help sewing cloth masks, which are being distributed to the vulnerable population of São Paulo through a project of the public Labour Prosecution Service (MPT) and the group of population studies of the University of Campinas (Unicamp), with support from the UNFPA Brazil and the UNHCR. 

Hayam was already a member of the group Creative Displacement, an initiative of the Migration Observatory of the university, when she was invited to produce the cloth masks with proper payment. The idea of the public Labour Prosecution Service and the University of Campinas was to stimulate the professional activity of migrants and refugees while also guaranteeing the protection of other people living in vulnerable conditions. At this time, 2 thousand cloth masks have already been produced and distributed to elder shelters, transexual people and homeless people, among others.

“Due to the pandemic, the Creative Displacement group, which was actively selling their manufactured products in public spaces, has been left with no income. This project helps these people in a moment when migrants and refugees are in a critical labor condition, and at the same time increases the knowledge about public health measures. It’s an initiative that has multiple gains, promotes economic activity, health and awareness”, defines the professor who coordinates the Migration Observatory in São Paulo, Rosada Baeninger. 

Seated in front of the sewing machine, Hayam takes up to five minutes to make a single mask, which is made from African cloth. By herself, she has sewed 450 just in the last month. “I can do anything. This is my business”, she says, proud of herself. With the pandemic, her brother lost his job and the money earned with the project has been helping to feed the family. “Brazil is my second country now and I ask for help to fly again. My dream is to become a professional personal stylist and get into the fashion industry”, she says. 

Valuable initiative

The UNFPA Brazil will pay for another thousand cloth masks through the project of Unicamp and MPT. “We have a long term partnership with the Unicamp and its group of population studies. This initiative matches the work we have been already doing to minimize the impact of the pandemic between the vulnerable ones. It guarantees an income for these refugees, mostly women, at the same time it delivers an essential supply to help prevent COVID-19 among people who don’t usually have access to health measures”, says Astrid Bant, representative of UNFPA Brazil. 

A donation campaign is also raising money and awareness about the project on the internet, with the hashtag #euabracoessacausa. Through the campaign, people can collaborate buying masks directly from the participants like Hayam. Actors and celebrities of Brazil joined the campaign by making videos wearing masks and asking for support, and the representative of UNFPA Brazil, Astrid Bant, also participated in the movement on Instagram.