Even a 11-year-old can be a soldier in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic as Ananya Patel, a student of class 5 in Varanasi, demonstrates.
Ananya has been sewing face masks at her modest home in Murza Murad locality ever since she heard about their power to prevent the spread of infection.
“This is my first time on the sewing machine. I could not get the masks right initially, and I wasted some material. Now I am used to making them. I will continue with this task even after this illness is over so that the poor can be protected against pollution,” Ananya told THE WEEK.
On Saturday, the Indian government recommended the use of home-made masks as a barrier against the coronavirus. Unlike surgical masks, these can be washed and used multiple times.
Ananya’s masks are fashioned from the cloth bags handed out by vegetable vendors. She uses elastic bands to make the headband. For her first batch, she used Rs 5 from her savings to purchase five cloth bags with a holding capacity of five kilogram each. The thicker variety of these bags yields 16 masks while the thinner variety requires two folds of the fabric. She also bought some cloth piping to finish them off beautifully.
“I never thought that they should look good but I just wanted to do my best”, she said.
Her elder brother Aman (16) helps her to cut out the fabric, while Ananya sews through the day to make as many as possible. She estimates that she has made about 70 till now while the next batch of 64 is about to be readied.
The masks are distributed by Ananya’s father Ajay—a social activist—and mother Manju, a former teacher. Before distribution, Aanya washes and dries the masks in the sun, and then sprays them with spirit to sanitize them.
Though her parents say that the masks were completely her idea, she gives credit to her father, too. “You can say it was my plan and then Papa supported me,” she said.
Ajay says that Anaya has always been a sensitive child. “She always ticks me off if I break any rule at home,” he says. Some examples of these house rules are not using swear words and always changing one's clothes in privacy.
“She will say to me that there cannot be one rule for women and a different one for men,” Ajay said.
Anaya has also been impacted by the poverty of children from the Musahar community who come to her home to be taught by her mother. “I always think to myself what of those children who cannot afford what I have”, she said.
Ananya attends a private educational institution in Varanasi—an admission that was made possible under the Right to Education Act which mandates 25 per cent reservation for children from the Economically Weaker Section (EWS). Her favourite subject is Mathematics.
“I do not know what I will do in the future but for now everyone should contribute to fighting this virus,” said Ananya.