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This Woman Sewed Over a Thousand Face Masks for Taal Volcano Evacuees

She now also makes pillowcases that evacuees can fill with clothes and turn into pillows.
taal seamstress face mask
(L) The Taal Volcano. Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP. (R) Rosalina Mantuano by her sewing machine. Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Mantuano. 

This article originally appeared on VICE Asia

Earlier this month, on Sunday, January 12, the Philippines’ Taal Volcano erupted and left thousands of nearby residents no choice but to leave their homes and move to evacuation centres. The incident brought ash fall to Metro Manila, and blanketed Batangas, where the volcano is located, and nearby provinces with up to three inches of ash.

Face masks were instantly in demand and many stores eventually ran out of them by the next day. Some vendors even doubled the price for the face masks, leaving many without one to protect themselves with.

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Ready to help out in her own way was 61-year-old seamstress Rosalina Mantuano. A resident of Lipa City, Batangas — about 20 kilometres from the Taal Volcano — her neighbourhood was one of the most affected by the eruption and ash fall. She didn’t have money to donate so instead, she sewed thousands of masks using scrap fabric and gave them away to her neighbours.

Her daughter Mary Ann Mantuano took to Facebook to share the good deed, where it has gone viral and garnered 113,000 likes, 66,000 shares and 4,500 comments as of this article's posting.

VICE spoke to Mary Ann and learned what motivated her mother, their reaction to the viral post, and how they are doing now, two weeks after the eruption.

VICE: Hi Mary Ann! How is your mother?

Mary Ann: She’s tired and has high blood pressure, so she’s currently taking vitamins to carry on and continue her work.

What made her want to sew masks for her neighbours?

As much as she really wanted to give financial aid, she’s just a simple seamstress. So she decided to use her skills to create free face masks for those affected instead, after learning on the news that the supply of face masks was running low and that their prices were shooting up.

What were people’s reactions when she gave them the masks for free?

They were really happy because it was free, but also because it wasn’t disposable.

How does your mother feel about the attention she’s receiving over this?

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She’s really happy about the recognition. Even though I posted it, I didn’t expect the photos to go viral. I simply wanted to share how smart my mother was for coming up with the idea of making masks. She’s also grateful to know that her actions inspired her fellow seamstresses to do the same.

How many masks has she made so far?

She’s already made 1,700 masks. Aside from those she has directly given masks to, other people drop by our home to ask for masks as well.

Has she tried making other items for the evacuees?

Now we also make pillowcases for those in evacuation centres. This way, they can make pillows out of the clothes they have that are unused.

How are people in your area doing now?

As of now, they’re still in evacuation centres, and just like us, waiting for the Taal Volcano to calm down.

Rosalina’s son-in-law, a member of a motorcycle riders' group, currently delivers the homemade masks and food to evacuation centres. As of writing, the Taal Volcano is now on Alert Level 3, a downgrade from the previous Level 4 that had been in place since it erupted earlier this month. According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, an Alert Level 3 indicates a "decreased tendency towards hazardous explosive eruption.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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