Weaver Hardship Fund: STEP’s COVID-19 Relief

COVID-19’s Impact on Handmade Carpet Industry

Lockdowns and other preventative health measures of the global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the supply chains of carpet manufacturers and weavers worldwide. The low demands for labour and corresponding job insecurities worsened the already precarious financial situations of many workers in the industry. For some, chronic and unforeseen health complications compounded these hardships even further – causing medical costs to accumulate on top of rent, education, food and other daily expenses. Through its close ties to local communities of carpet weavers and workers, Label STEP witnessed these obstacles first hand and so introduced a two-fold COVID relief project that delivers both broad support to the industry as well as targeted aid to individual workers.

STEP’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund and Weaver Hardship Fund

In April, 2020, the STEP’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund was initiated to support carpet manufacturers and weavers who were affected by the pandemic. The emergency funds allowed STEP to not only raise awareness amongst these communities about the effects of COVID-19, but also to distribute relief packages to over 16 people from weaver families and provide medical assistance (including vaccine registration) to hundreds more. This broad relief project eased unexpected financial and emotional strains caused by the pandemic and ensured ongoing workplace safety through preventative health measures. Additionally, it contributed to long term support in the form of financial literacy courses, which encourage budgeting and saving plans to better prepare weaver families for future crises.

STEP also recognised, however, that for certain individuals the broad relief was insufficient. In response, the Weaver Hardship Fund was created to provide supplementary aid to specific weavers most severely affected by the pandemic. So far, STEP’s Weaver Hardship Fund has allocated cash grants to 17 weavers in Nepal whose overall family and financial situation worsened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Weaver Hardship Fund Recipients

The circumstances of each of the weavers selected to receive the grants are unique; however, several shared a similar stress: expensive treatments for chronic or ongoing medical conditions. Maya, for example, is a yarn baller from the Sarlahi District who recently received a breast cancer diagnosis that required chemotherapy treatments. Due to COVID-19, Maya’s husband has been unable to gain an adequate income to support their family of six as well as pay for her treatments. With the supplementary aid of STEP’s Weaver Hardship Fund, Maya was able to afford and access the chemotherapy she required. Numerous other weavers were similarly met with unexpected or mounting medical bills that they could not afford as a result of various illnesses that they or their family were experiencing. The fund provided these individuals with some relief so that they could focus on the health and wellness of themselves and their families with lesser financial worries.

Other weavers such as Rekha (also from Sarlahi District) experienced difficulties resulting from the declining demand of carpet makers that resulted from the pandemic. Magar is a single parent of two children as well as the sole breadwinner for her family. The decline in business that resulted from the pandemic further exasperated the financial strain she was already experiencing, which caused her to incur debts and experience food insecurity. The targeted support provided by the Weaver Hardship Fund allowed her to feed her family, buy new clothes for her children, and pay off some of her debts. A weaver from the Sindhupalchowk District, Aita is also a single parent and the sole caretaker of his son Dipsan who was born with health condition that causes physical challenges, including difficulties with muscle tone, balance, and speech. As a result of this condition, Aita was unable to work enough hours to both manage the medical expenses and act as a primary caregiver to Dipsan. The Weaver Hardship Fund provided Aita with some relief, allowing him to focus on the wellbeing of his son.

Grassroots Commitment: Supporting Weavers in Times of Crisis

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the carpet industry is broad and continues to place additional financial and emotional strain on many weavers and workers who were already struggling to make ends meet. As a grassroots organization, Label STEP uses their intimate and trusting relationship with these communities to provide highly effective and efficient support directly to weavers and workers who needed it most. Broad scale relief provided thousands of families access food and sanitary articles, while targeted relief allocated cash grants to individuals going through a particularly difficult time. With its COVID Emergency Fund and Weaver Hardship Fund, STEP illustrated that, even in times of crisis, no one gets left behind.

To donate to STEP’s COVID Relief Projects, visit: label-step.org/donate.

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