A sewing workshop churns out life-saving suits in coronavirus-stricken Lebanon

It was established in 1994 to manufacture fashion items, embroidery and linen, but today Machghal El Oum is dedicated to the production of protective suits to counter the coronavirus threat. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 May 2020

A sewing workshop churns out life-saving suits in coronavirus-stricken Lebanon

  • Women at a sewing workshop in Saida called Machghal El Oum are doing their bit to stop the spread of the virus
  • Around 20 women are producing 400 protective suits a day, each requiring 15 to 20 minutes to sew

BEIRUT: In the time of the coronavirus when most people were asked not to leave their houses and to work from home, some women in Lebanon’s Saida region chose to make protective suits at Machghal El Oum.

The workshop was established in 1994 to manufacture fashion items, embroidery and linen, but today Machghal El Oum is dedicated to the production of protective suits to counter the coronavirus threat.

The women who work there are doing a public service by helping the factory to cope with the surging demand for face masks in Lebanon.




Some women in Lebanon’s Saida region chose to make protective suits at Machghal El Oum. (Supplied)

“The idea was born with the spread of the coronavirus disease in Lebanon and the dire lack of supplies in the markets,” said Wafa Wehbe, manager of Machghal El Oum.

“We felt the need to help Lebanese society, especially after the closure of borders and airports and, consequently, the cessation of import of protective suits,” she said.

Research and many experiments have been conducted by Machghal El Oum in cooperation with engineers and specialists to discover the best type of fabric to prevents liquids and any kind of spray from reaching the wearer’s skin.

The fabric — such as titanium TNT, which blocks external elements — must also be available in the Lebanese market.

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That is how about 20 women started working at Machghal El Oum, producing 400 protective suits a day, each requiring 15 to 20 minutes to sew.

There is an increasing demand for the suits, according to Wehbe, who adds that Machghal El Oum is currently cooperating with the Lebanese Red Cross and the World Health Organization.

Ghassan Hanqir, the director of public relations at the Islamic Welfare Association (which established the workshop), said that hospitals, pharmacists, relief agencies and restaurants placed orders for hundreds of suits daily.

He said that the price of a suit was symbolic and not for profit, but enough to purchase the required materials and pay the workers’ salaries.

The women at the workshop are from the marginalized and economically disadvantaged sections of Lebanese society.




Some women in Lebanon’s Saida region chose to make protective suits at Machghal El Oum. (Supplied)

When the workshop was founded 25 years ago, an applicant’s socio-economic status was used as the main criterion for hiring, Wehbe said.

“We provide work for women in need, who are divorced, widowed or refugees. Each year, we offer them six-month sewing courses, at the end of which we provide them with sewing machines.

“The highly qualified women are offered jobs in our workshop.”

FASTFACT

20

Number of women who started working at Machghal El Oum, producing 400 protective suits per day.

These women, in spite of their difficult circumstances, or perhaps because of them, did not seek to opt out during the coronavirus crisis.

They decided to put in hard work to meet the increasing demand for protective suits and items such as plastic masks and shoes, according to Wehbe.

She said that the management of Machghal El Oum took the safety of the women employees very seriously.

We felt the need to help Lebanese society, especially after the closure of borders and airports and, consequently, the cessation of import of protective suits.

Wafa Wehbe, manager of Machghal El Oum

There are currently 20 women working at a time, rotating based on a two-hour shift.

“We do not know whether or not we will increase the number,” she said. “We are working in a daily state of emergency that may change at any time.”

Wehbe said that the workshop was continuously sterilized; masks and gloves are provided; and temperature checks are carried out when the women arrive at the premises for work.

The seating arrangement is set up so the women are able to maintain a safe social distance.




Some women in Lebanon’s Saida region chose to make protective suits at Machghal El Oum. (Supplied)

Dr. Kamel Kuzbar, the Saida Municipality member responsible for tackling the coronavirus situation, praised and encouraged the women working at Machghal El Oum.

He said that the initiative aimed to address the problem of the lack of protective gear in the country.

Kuzbar said that the municipality cooperated fully with the workshop and other active institutions in its endeavor to take precautions and reduce the impact of the pandemic.




Some women in Lebanon’s Saida region chose to make protective suits at Machghal El Oum. (Supplied)

As well as cooperating with Machghal El Oum, he said, Saida Municipality was working to provide guidance, instructions and sterilization to the community.

It was also imposing home quarantine and distributing sterilization materials, food and medicine in areas of need.

In making these protective suits, the women of Machghal El Oum are doing their part to serve their country and its people.

  • This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


US blasts Houthis over ‘ticking time bomb’ tanker in Red Sea

Updated 10 August 2020

US blasts Houthis over ‘ticking time bomb’ tanker in Red Sea

  • Iran-backed militias renege on agreement to allow UN inspectors aboard stricken vessel holding 1.4 million barrels of oil

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: The US blasted Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen on Sunday for reneging on a deal to allow UN teams to board a rusting oil storage vessel that threatens an environmental disaster in the Red Sea.

The FSO Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988. It fell into Houthi hands in March 2015, when they took control of the coast around the port city of Hodeidah.

The Houthis briefly bowed to pressure last month and agreed to allow a team of UN engineers to visit the ship, before changing their minds and restating their previous demands for the revenue from the oil. As the vessel’s condition deteriorates there are fears that the 1.4 million barrels of oil it contains will start to seep out.

“The Houthis have failed to follow through on their agreement to allow a UN team on to the Safer,” the White House National Security Council said on Sunday.

“They are courting environmental and humanitarian disaster by obstructing and delaying. For the good of Yemen and the region, the Houthis must allow the UN aboard the Safer.”

A recent water leak into the tanker’s engine prompted warnings of a major disaster.

“The time has come for a resolute response for an outcome,” the Yemen Embassy in Washington said on Sunday. 

“There cannot be more delays or deliberations. UN inspectors must immediately access and assess the Safer oil tanker even without Houthi permission.”

The UK echoed its concerns. “There is another floating disaster off the Yemeni coast with potentially as massive an ecological footprint as the shockwave that engulfed Beirut,” former Middle East minister Alistair Burt said. “The politics preventing safe evacuation of the oil must stop immediately.”