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How One Artisan Organization Is Combatting Covid-19 — And No, It's Not By Making Masks

One Mexico-based group has found a more unique way to help.
A hand-washing station in use.

A hand-washing station in use.

Every day, it seems, another fashion brand announces it's pivoting production to make masks, face shields or hospital gowns in an effort to a part of the Covid-19 solution. Valuable though those contributions may be, they're not the only option available for companies trying to have a positive impact.

For Oaxaca-based Cosa Buena, responding to the virus looks a little different. Originally an accessories brand that's lately pivoted to tourism, with a focus on connecting travelers to traditional craftspeople within Mexico, this company has always had artisan makers at its core. And it's those artisan communities that founder Vera Claire is hoping to serve with Cosa Buena's latest project: the construction of hand-washing stations.

"We are building portable hands-free devices for hand-washing that are especially designed for rural areas where there is no running water," Claire tells Fashionista via email. "The stations can be made with locally-sourced materials at virtually no cost. The basic set of required materials includes several sticks, string, soap and a container for the water."

This is crucial, Claire says, because "30% of Mexicans do not have access to clean running water." As much of the world finds itself newly obsessed with frequent hand-washing to prevent the spread of the disease (the Center for Disease Control notes that hand-washing reduces respiratory illnesses in the general population by 16 to 21%), it seems obvious that artisans living in rural communities shouldn't get left behind.

"My organization works with several Indigenous artisan communities in rural parts of Oaxaca. Many of our partners simply cannot stay at home; they do not have that privilege," Claire explains.

If they can't shelter in place, she reasons, the next best thing is to make sure they have access to proper hand-washing stations when they do venture out, especially to places like open-air markets.

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Cosa Buena started by installing its first hand-washing station at a market called La Merced in Oaxaca, and was quickly asked by the local market administration to build more for the rest of the markets in the city. A few days later, she launched a fundraiser to help buy the relatively minimal supplies to build even more "at the request of our local community and partners in Indigenous communities."

Claire has also created easy-to-understand graphics translated into Spanish and a variety of Indigenous languages in an attempt to equip others to build the stations themselves. One problem thus far, she notes, has been that official public health announcements have been made available only in Spanish, making them inaccessible to many residents in the region.

Graphic instructions for how to build a simple hand washing station.

Graphic instructions for how to build a simple hand washing station.

"We are developing various public health campaigns to make sure important information is available to Indigenous communities too (use and proper disposal of masks, hand-washing education, build your own station)," she notes.

Ultimately, she hopes a similar approach might take off in other places where industries like fashion or tourism rely on artisan groups who may not have as much access to information or infrastructure that can make weathering the pandemic more viable.

"I really hope to get the word out there about these resources," she says. "I think they could be extremely beneficial to underserved populations all across the globe."

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