Decrease font size Reset font size Increase font size

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, OISE student made more than 1,000 masks

July 10, 2020

By Perry King

Fernanda Yanchapaxi has sewn over 1,000 face-masks. She has donated them to shelters, hospitals, grocery workers, friends who are immunocompromised, nurses, parents and children. "I felt the need to act and help," she said. 

Fernanda Yanchapaxi has lost so much. Family members in her homeland Ecuador had died due to COVID-19 or in the midst of the pandemic.

“When my grandmother died early in the pandemic, I wasn’t able to travel, and go home, and be with my family to support them and grieve with them” said Yanchapaxi, who is an OISE doctoral student who is researching ways to protect Indigenous knowledges for future generations.

And when she had issues trying to reach relatives and was unable to physically connect with friends in Toronto during lockdown, she wanted to find a way to grieve and to help others in some way.

So, she started making non-medical masks – initially for friends and family but then she felt the urge to keep making more. “I’ve sewn over 1,000 face-masks. I have donated them to shelters (Sistering), hospitals (St. Joe’s hospital), grocery workers, friends who are immunocompromised, nurses, parents and children from my kids’ school and daycare, etc. I felt the need to act and help here.” she said.

She contributed masks to Sistering, a Toronto-based multi-service agency and St. Joseph’s Hospital. Her six-year-old daughter also got involved, folding and packing the masks and keeping a list of requests and donations. “It helps her practice her writing and math, and she learns what it means to be a community member,” Yanchapaxi says.

She also recently sewed masks for her daughter’s best friend and their sibling – eight and 12-years-old, respectively – who wanted used their business platform, called Leeloodles, to sell them and donate 100 per cent of the money to three Black and Indigenous organizations.

She isn’t seeking praise for this effort. In fact, Yanchapaxi felt a sense of duty to take action, she said.

“I’m a graduate student, with a student income, but I know that I am healthy, and that I have a home and food, and that I am in a more privileged position than other people here,” she said. “But I am also a guest on this land, and it is my responsibility to act according to my obligations as such. I did what I was able to do using my skills and limited resources.”

Yanchapaxi keeps finding different ways to help out as COVID-19 cases increase in Indigenous communities in Ecuador. But this moment has one crucial takeaway to keep in mind: Indigenous peoples have been enduring loss and pandemics for generations.

“This might be the first time my generation has lived a pandemic, but it is not the first time that our communities have had to survive and protect themselves from it while being under-funded, underserved, or left out from governmental actions” she said. “All I am doing is responding in ways I am obliged to; that is to live up to my obligations, our ethics and relationality to hold one another through this, and in solidarity with other communities.”

More OISE news

OISE-led Indigenous education research project secures $2.5M in federal funding

Defending the land through culture and dance: Indigenous communities come together as the coronavirus pandemic hits Turtle Island

‘Lifting each other up with love’: OISE honours Indigenous students with special ceremony