Two entrepreneurs making a difference, one mask at a time

Tuesday April 28 2020

Bernice Fernandes (first left) and Nice-Monique

Bernice Fernandes (first left) and Nice-Monique Kimaryo (first right) with some of the beneficiaries of the #Maskedwithlove campaign. 

By Mpoki Thomson @MpokiThoms mthomson@tz.nationmedia.com

Success magazine interviewed Bernice Fernandes and Nice-Monique Kimaryo – two young entrepreneurs who’ve gone out of their way to help supply the community with an essential gear needed in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus in Tanzania – face masks.

Dubbed ‘Masked with love’, their campaign aims to provide reusable cloth masks to the underprivileged and high-risk individuals In the Dar es Salaam community. “Our target beneficiaries include street vendors selling vegetables and fruits to small groceries’ shopkeepers, food vendors (mama lishe), orphans, homeless people, bajaj and boda boda drivers, parking lot workers and identified social welfare individuals in the local government and religious institutions,” they explain.

Bernice and Nice-Monique discussed the urgent need to take action to combat the virus in Tanzania after hearing about the first patient who tested positive for Covid-19 in the country. They then brainstormed different ideas. They saw three steps that were needed: Awareness, Prevention and Treatment.

After researching potential solutions, Bernice came up with the mask solution after gaining insight from Hongkong nurses who stressed the urgency and need for every citizen to wear masks. Hongkong had learned its lessons from the previous SARS (similar to Covid-19) virus in 2003 and developed disciplined behavior to prevent the virus from spreading.

Bernice then organized for a few young ladies to meet at Agape Life Church in Mbezi Beach to hand-stitch the reusable cloth masks as an experiment. Nice agreed and joined together with Bernice and some church members, where they purchased a few materials and sewed a few masks and thought in order to help more people, they needed to start a campaign and that is how it began.

But even as the two continue to help others cope with the virus, the spread of Covid-19 has also negatively impacted their businesses. Nice – an entrepreneur involved in the beauty industry has seen a decline in sales and the number of clients.

Advertisement

Bernice – a business consultant, financial advisor and entrepreneur has shifted physical consultations and training sessions to a digital platform where businesses can still be supported during this crisis.

The drive behind their cause stems from the fact that Tanzania needs urgent help right now to prevent the coronavirus spread. “Many of the underprivileged communities cannot afford to be under lockdown as they live and work for their daily bread earning less than $2 per day. They do not have access to the basic prevention tools such as reusable masks, sanitizers and antibacterial cleaning materials. Our life mantra is: To whom much is given, much is required. So if God has given you much, you have enough and can help those who cannot help themselves,” the two explain, adding, “It is our obligation as citizens of the world to help our neighbors and save lives in whatever capacity we have whether financially, human resources, tailoring, etc.”

Apart from Bernice and Nice’s efforts in this cause, Rotary Club of Mbezi Beach has also boosted the outreach campaign by committing to provide 600 masks to bajaj drivers. Additionally, Rotary members, friends and family have donated funds towards the campaign.

Speaking about some of the challenges they’re facing as they try to reach as many people as possible, the two say that the relief project in itself requires a lot of work to plan, procure, produce, distribute, maintain record keeping and increase fundraising efforts. “Juggling between the campaign, our businesses and our daily lives while staying safe is a lot more difficult now.”

They also point to the cost of production as a challenge. “We’re facing a challenge in trying to maintain low costs so as to produce more masks for the people and also raising more donations on time to beat the increase in the spread,” Bernice and Nice state.

Another major challenge is funds as the capital is what helps them continue to produce more masks. “We began this campaign on Easter Monday, April 13, a week before the government announced for masks to be worn. When we began, materials were low priced, but since then they have gone up in price due to high demand and attrition in market supply. We are actively raising funds and milestones we have set keep us going slowly and steadily.”

The response from the community has so far been positive. “We have a few donations coming in, however, we are concerned that it doesn’t match the urgency of the situation. We need to act fast and distribute to as many vulnerable individuals and communities as possible. We have donated 355 masks so far and our beneficiaries are very grateful. When we interviewed street vendors, they expressed their desire to have protection packages such as masks and sanitizers but they cannot afford to buy them. They said they would be very grateful if people could think of them and support them during this pandemic crisis. We wish there was more willingness and proactiveness to help those who cannot help themselves.”

Advice to young entrepreneurs on giving back to the community

Nice: It is within our control to do something, to change anything, we just have to be brave enough to become leaders without any titles. You don’t have to have a lot of money to start or participate in a campaign like this, we can devote our time, our skills, our influence and other forms of resources available to us.

Bernice: “To whom much is given, much is required.” As young entrepreneurs or Tanzanian youth, it is our social responsibility to support our own communities and step up in action. We are stronger when we join our efforts together. It is a blessing to bless others. Spread love and make history.

The campaign’s pilot phase was funded by Accelerate and Kimz 2 Society initiative by Kimz Hair.

Masked with Love has so far managed to donate 650 masks to underprivileged individuals.

Follow #Maskedwithlove campaign on Instagram @maskedwithlove for more updates and how you may support. You can also make donations to: +255744-930472 or +255655111615.

Advertisement