Emma Mkuziwaduka- Maiden; a 33-year-old mother of three, bends over a sewing machine, carefully running the needle over the edge of a camouflaged face mask meant for Park Rangers.
Sitting opposite to her is her 39-year-old workmate, Sineya Yusuf, who intently cuts a cloth into pieces to make more face masks.
Mkuziwaduka-Maiden and Yusuf work as assistant tailors for the Combatting Wildlife Crime (CWC) Project at Kasungu National Park, which has been contracted to make the masks for Park Rangers.
Until November 2016, Mkuziwaduka-Maiden and Yusuf were housewives of park and wildlife assistants (PWAs), and depended on their husbands for nearly everything because they had no means of earning an income on their own.
The CWC Project is enabled by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), through its community capacity building initiatives.
While the key work is to address wildlife trafficking in key hotspots of the targeted geography, a lot has been done to assist the community including training the duo in tailoring and design.
Today, Mkuziwaduka-Maiden and Yusuf form part of a group of six tailors working to produce 1,000 camouflaged face masks for Park Rangers for all the National Parks and Game Reserves in Malawi.
These masks are of key assistance in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“It is such a relief that we are able to take part in measures of containing the Covid-19, while at the same time generating income for ourselves as women,” Yusuf said in an interview.
The tailoring team already produces uniforms for rangers employed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DNPW) and working in protected areas across Malawi.
IFAW supports the initiative with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the CWC Project.
The project employs a participatory approach to wildlife crime prevention efforts in the Malawi and Zambia trans-boundary landscape by engaging key stakeholders – national governments, local and regional civil society organizations, local communities and the private sector.
The five year project started in May 2017 and will run until 2022.
Over the years, the project has equipped communities with various skills to help them with long-term income opportunities through restoring the forest, protecting the natural environment, while building their livelihoods and opportunities.
It has also been providing training and public awareness on how to reduce deforestation, prevent degradation of their water supplies and reduce the occurrence of wildfires in the beneficiary communities and the concession area.
But following the emergence of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, IFAW has come up with deliberate measures to protect Mkuziwaduka-Maiden, Yusuf and communities surrounding the Kasungu National Park.
IFAW is now supporting communities around Kasungu National Park in Malawi and Luambe and Lukusuzi National Parks in Zambia with various items aimed at mitigating the risks of the disease.
The Malawi-Zambia Transfrontier Landscape Project has already distributed masks, hand sanitizers, clinic furniture, buckets, soap and information packs to the value of US$ 7,000 (approximately K5 million) to local communities.
Additionally, the project has given new bicycles to community extension workers to enable them travel to distant villages and settlements in their crime prevention assignments.
IFAW Director of Law Enforcement in Southern Africa, Mike Labuschagne, says his organization acknowledges the risk the pandemic poses to everyone, including the potential tourists and personnel working in National Parks and Game Reserves.
“We want to make sure we limit the possibility of disease by doing all we can to safeguard lives of rangers, tourists and the communities surrounding Kasungu National Park and Luambe and Lukusuzi National Parks in Zambia,” Labuschagne says, adding that, apart from the distribution of the packs, IFAW has also trained education and extension workers in Covid-19 messaging.
The Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), Brighton Kumchedwa, admits that although the department has been providing civic education to members of staff and communities surrounding this area, it cannot singlehandedly manage to protect game and park rangers from the pandemic.
Kumchedwa therefore believes the intervention of IFAW is timely in preventing further spread of the disease in Malawi and Zambia.
“Rangers and members of staff at the park need protection at all times. There are times when animals like elephants enter the communities and rangers rush to help,” he says.
“At other times, when rangers are on patrol in the bush, they are required to arrest poachers. Consequently, the need for protective gear for our rangers is important for their safety and that of others. We are also glad that IFAW did not just target workers in the park only, but also communities surrounding the park,” Kumchedwa added.
Mercy Milambe is one of the education and extension workers at Kasungu National Park.
Milambe, who comes from Kamboni village, Traditional Authority (TA) Kawamba, used to walk long distances to meet targeted community members.
She says the bicycle she has received will enable her to serve the community even better.
Additionally, Labuschagne stressed that maintaining good relationship between the DNPW, IFAW and community members is critical to contain natural threats to the tourism industry.
He says donation and distribution of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) was successful because of the willingness of the people to work together.
“If we keep moving forward as partners, it becomes easier to direct funding where it is most needed. I am optimistic that communities will continue to benefit from the relationship that exists between us,” Labuschagne observed.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prescribes washing hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or washing hands with soap and water, as one of the effective ways of preventing the spread and contraction of the coronavirus.
Washing hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on one’s hands, that can eventually be transferred to nasal cavities and cause infection there in.
Apart from hand washing, maintaining social distance is another preventive measure.
WHO says this is so because when someone coughs or sneezes they spray tiny droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain the virus.
If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the coronavirus if the person released the droplets is infected.
The global health organization also encourages people to avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth because hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses.
Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus through the eyes, nose or mouth.
Labuschagne says while observing these measures, the IFAW’s Malawi-Zambia Transfrontier Landscape Project will aim at stabilizing the elephant populations through a decrease in poaching-related mortalities.
He says that in partnership with government agencies in Zambia and Malawi, the project is strengthening wildlife crime enforcement in the region by supporting regional coordination among agencies and prioritizing wildlife crime across enforcement and regulatory agencies.
“IFAW has brought together all relevant stakeholders in the landscape to create an enduring conservation partnership to better leverage resources and attain sustained wildlife protection with particular attention to creating community awareness and community participation in wildlife protection,” says Labuschagne.