Acts of Kindness soar in a time of crisis...

We talk to two Cork boutiques who are reaching out and supporting others  during the Covid-19 crisis
Acts of Kindness soar in a time of crisis...
'Sanctuary Mask' makers, Olga Voytenko, and her daughter Sofya Abashko with some of the masks made to protect residents of 'Direct Provision' centres.Picture: Larry Cummins

A NEW mask making business is being run by women in Cork’s six direct provision centres to help themselves, and others during the Covid-19 crisis.

Called the Sanctuary Mask Initiative (SMI) it’s spearheaded by BetterTogether and the Cork Migrant Centre, with the support of the UCC University of Sanctuary, UCC Feminist and Fáilte Refugees Societies.

It started out initially in urgent response to the need for masks for those living in Direct Provision who may find social distancing challenging in situations where kitchens are shared etc. There are approx. 2000 asylum seekers in Cork and each of them will be given three masks as a priority of the project. But once those demands are met in the next week or two, the plan is to sell to the general public via a website.

Olga Voytenko making the masks.
Olga Voytenko making the masks.

It works by recruiting women living in Direct Provision Centres to make the masks.

Each of them are then supplied with a sewing machine, pattern, fabric and necessary supplies needed to make the washable masks; and crucially are given a wage for their labour (in accordance with their rights to work status).

Leading the project is Olga Voytenko, a seamstress and resident of Kinsale Rd Accommodation Centre, who has her own sewing and alteration business in the city.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions she’s moved her studio to her room where she got the first stages of the project underway.  She is supported by women in each of the six direct provision centres in Cork (Clonakilty, Ashbourne House, Kinsale Rd, Riverside Park Hotel, Macroom; Davis Lane Apartments, Mallow and Drishane Castle, Millstreet). And as more women get involved she’ll use Zoom to train them to make the cotton and linen masks.

Olga wearing one of the masks.
Olga wearing one of the masks.

Charlotte Cargin from Charlotte and Jane, a Kinsale based design label, is the fashion design consultant on this project.  She was brought in by the groups involved, a year ago to work on craft projects and business initiatives with women living in direct provision, and successfully launched a project called Flauraband which sees them make and sell decorative headbands.

That team has switched to mask making for now.

Charlotte says: “Direct provision residents are often viewed as individuals with little to contribute to society which does not take into account the contextual political, economic, social and psychological processes that create the vulnerabilities and resultant powerlessness of this population. SMI aims to harness some of the strengths of this population to make a contribution that is so vital during this Covid-19 crisis.” 

Charlotte and Jane were able to secure enough fabric to start the project and get the first few thousand masks made.

“Initial funding has now been secured through the organisations spearheading this initiative, but we are calling out for more funding to fund this worthy project which has the potential to make huge contribution towards national and global non-clinical hygiene efforts to combat this pandemic,” said Charlotte.

A GoFundMe page has been set up with this in mind, and the plan is that masks will be made as long as there is fabric available.

Rudina Zhuka, Violeta Nimani, and Olga Voytenko, , with some of the masks made to protect residents of 'Direct Provision' centres. Pictures; Larry Cummins
Rudina Zhuka, Violeta Nimani, and Olga Voytenko, , with some of the masks made to protect residents of 'Direct Provision' centres. Pictures; Larry Cummins

An information leaflet has been produced to distribute along with each hygiene mask, in a variety of languages. It contains information on the proper use of the masks alongside other measures and guidelines advised by the HSE and the World Health Organisation. HSE and WHO guidelines, as well as the recommendations of a public health expert, were consulted and deployed in the production of information guides on the use of hygiene masks. The official guidelines emphasise that the hygiene masks do not replace existing guidelines on safety procedures for COVID- 19.

A website, will shortly be up and running where packs of five masks will be available to buy.

For more information, email or see GoFundMe Charlotte added: “This is a crisis we are all in together and we need to act together in every way we can to get everyone through it safely. Our migrant population have so much to offer our society in so many ways and we hope this initiative gives them some visibility for their immense potential offerings as well as vital protection.”

Dearbhaile Rynne, who owns Dakota Boutique and Fionnuala Kenneally from Therapy Boutique.
Dearbhaile Rynne, who owns Dakota Boutique and Fionnuala Kenneally from Therapy Boutique.

Meanwhile another Cork boutique is also reaching out to support another during this crisis, writes CHRIS DUNNE

Even though the world seems like a hostile, scary place right now; the human spirit still prevails, shining a light with acts of kindness.

Midleton woman, Dearbhaile Rynne, who is a mother of one and who owns Dakota Boutique was at home on Mother's Day when she got a call.

“I was at home that Sunday afternoon enjoying time with my son Charlie, 18 months, when I got a phone call out of the blue,” says Dearbhaile.

“Most people know I’m not very techie and I don’t have a website for Dakota. Fionnuala Kenneally from Therapy Boutique in Market Green called me to offer me space on her website to showcase my stock in the shop. I was blown away!” 

Fionnuala and Dearbhaile, in business in Midleton for over two decades, know each other well. Trading in the rag trade, facing the same challenges like all small businesses face, maintaining a niche in the fickle world of fashion; they have been friends through thick and thin.

Still, Dearbhaile was gobsmacked by the huge gesture from Fionnuala who said she had an idea.

“I said; are you sure? I couldn’t believe it when she told me I could share space on Therapy website,” says Dearbhaile.

“Like everyone else in the same boat; I was gutted when I had to close the shop.” 

What was Dearbhaile’s reaction when she got the call?

“You’re amazing!” I told her, says Dearbhaile.

“I know Fionnuala has a huge heart, she’s unreal, always helping out people. She has great human nature.” 

Fionnuala said once the COVID-19 crisis broke: “We knew closing up was inevitable. It had to happen. I felt luckier than Dearbhaile, who is a young mother, because at least I have a website that I set up a year and a half ago. She doesn’t.” 

Fionnuala, with a kind, generous heart, thought about this when she went home that evening.

“I thought; I’d love to help her,” says Fionnuala.

But how?

“I thought; I could put Dearbhaile on the website. I could literally give her a section of the Therapy website for her customers to use.” 

“Dearbhaile was delighted when I called her to suggest the idea.

“I think it is important to support each other in such uncertain, anxious times. It is important to be kind to each other.” 

Sometimes the fashion business can be unkind.

“Yes, the fashion business can be known for back-stabbing and fierce competition. But it’s not all like that. Dearbhaile and I were never in competition. We support each other.” Fionnuala has her friend’s back.

“This climate is tough on everyone. Reaching out a helping hand or reaching out to chat, creating a bond is good. In hard times we should come together.” 

Fionnuala and Dearbhaile bounce off one another.

“We are traders in the same town. We bounce off one another and we send our customers to each other. It is the way that it should be,” says Fionnuala.

“Dearbhaile is family. Her livelihood is gone. I can give her a little bit of a chance to regain some of her custom.” 

Losing your livelihood can be soul destroying.

“Going into the empty store, seeing the stock, not knowing what lies ahead in the future is tough,” says Fionnuala.

“Hopefully some online sales will help Dearbhaile a bit.” 

It is nice to be nice.

“Dearbhaile is a really nice person,” says Fionnuala.

“Being nice comes back to you in lots of ways,” says Fionnuala.

She is happy for her colleague.

“I’m glad to help in any way,” says Fionnuala.

“If the website brings Dearbhaile a couple of sales; I’d be happy. It is good to be able to do something for somebody else.” 

Fionnuala has shone her light for everyone to see.

“She’s an absolute star,” says Dearbhaile.

Others have seen the light.

“The feedback from the people in Midleton who saw the post on Facebook, has just been amazing,” says Fionnuala.

“It seems to have lifted everyone’s spirits."

Fionnuala believes in the power of kindness. She believes it is reciprocated in many ways.

“Being kind to others comes back around to you,” says Fionnuala.

Therapy Boutique, Market Green Midleton.

Dakota Boutique, 47 Main Street Midleton. Phone:021-4630777 on Facebook and Instagram.

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