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Ukrainian schoolgirl sews&distributes anti-COVID-19 masks for her whole region

11-year-old Alisa Ponomarenko from Kharkiv Oblast. Photo: courtesy of Yulia Ponomarenko
Ukrainian schoolgirl sews&distributes anti-COVID-19 masks for her whole region
Article by: Alina Shvydko
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
Eleven-year-old Alisa Ponomarenko from Balakliya, Kharkiv Oblast has a new hobby – sewing and distributing protective masks to whoever needs them. Despite daily online school lessons and other classes, she is able to sew about 70 masks a day. Volunteers and locals help deliver them to markets or local NGOs.

Alisa has been sewing for five years. At first, she sewed doll clothes and then developed a passion for stuffed animals. Last year, Alisa and her mother went shopping for a phone, but the young girl saw a sewing machine and bought it instead. She had no problems getting acquainted with her new tool:

“I just sat down, read the instructions and began sewing.When the quarantine started, I decided to sew some masks for my family… two or three masks for each person. Then, I saw that many people couldn’t buy them, so I told my mother that we should sew masks and give them away for free. Mom agreed, so that’s how it all started. A week after the beginning of the quarantine, I began producing more masks.”

Alisa says that she initially had very ambitious plans – to sew masks for the whole country. However, when she saw the number of orders that kept arriving every day, she realized that she would not be physically able to provide so many masks to so many people and decided to focus on her native Balakliya and Kharkiv Oblast.

Alisa Ponomarenko. Photo: courtesy of Yulia Ponomarenko

At first, Alisa used the remains of fabric that were left over from her animal creations that she still loves to sew: bunnies, cats, and unicorns. But, very soon there was no more fabric left, so Alisa’s mother, Yulia Ponomarenko, posted an appeal on Facebook and other social networks. Help came from everywhere. Not only did people send fabrics en masse, some generous souls helped raise money for a new sewing machine, because the previous one could no longer manage such large-scale production, and was badly in need of repair.

In addition, Alisa received an overlock – a special sewing machine for edging, hemming and seaming a variety of fabrics. Suddenly, everything became much easier… In one day, Alisa can sew up to a hundred masks, but, she usually makes about 70… and relaxes when creating toys.

“I sew all day… with breaks. I wake up in the morning, I feel like sewing, so I sit down and sew as much as I want. I can sew for three hours and then I sit down at my computer and do one or two lessons online.  You know, my mother laughs at me, because when I get tired of sewing masks, I sew toys! ”

Yulia Ponomarenko says that most people come to their home to pick up their masks, and some masks are sent by mail. Volunteers and locals have joined the family initiative. In particular, Balakliya veterinarian Yuriy Hroshev has a kiosk at the market where he sells medicines. He helps the Ponomarenko family by distributing the masks to people visiting the market.

“I order masks from Yulia, pick them up, take them to my kiosk, and hand them out to the passers-by. I’ve provided all the market workers with these masks. People know that I’m handing them out and ask for more… for their husbands, wives, children… I think I’m doing a good job and I want to see as many people as possible protected.  Yesterday, two masks were left by the end of the day. I’ve already distributed at least a thousand masks. I’ve taken up the challenge – I look around, I see someone without a mask: ‘Hey there! What are you doing here without a mask? Do you know what the risks are?…’ And, I give them one or two, free-of-charge. But, yesterday, a lady brought some chocolates and asked me to pass them on to Alisa. Another told me that she had some nice fabric lying somewhere in a closet. I believe that if we work together, we’ll overcome this evil that has overwhelmed our country. This little Alisa has a big heart; she’ll have a very bright future. So young, and yet so socially aware! Well done!”

Balakliya veterinarian Yuriy Hroshev distributes Alisa’s masks at the local market. Photo: courtesy of Yulia Ponomarenko

This is not the first time Alisa Ponomarenko has been involved in charity work. In 2019, she made animal toys that her mother posted on the Facebook page – “Bunnies will change the world.” Each bunny or toy cost a symbolic 100 UAH. The money was sent to families with children suffering from cancer. People often transferred ten times the amount, so Yulia asked them to send the money directly to the families. Yulia and Alisa, in turn, sent a toy to the benefactor in gratitude. Yulia Ponomarenko says about 500,000 UAH were collected in one year. And, to say it all began as a fundraiser for the treatment of Alisa’s schoolmate!

“Last spring, we organized a charity fair at our school. One of our schoolmates in the 10th grade, Valera, was very sick… something to do with his blood, but I don’t know for sure. We wanted to raise money for his treatment. My mom and I made caramel candy on a stick, which I sold for 80 UAH a piece. But, I realized this wasn’t enough… I remembered my grandmother had died of this disease when I was six months old. I told mom that we had to help somehow. Mom said: “Well, why don’t you think about how you can help?” At first I thought about selling all my younger sister’s toys, but my mom said that wasn’t fair. So, like I said before, when we went to buy a phone, I came home with a sewing machine, and that same evening I made my first bunny.

One day, mom, dad, my sister and I went shopping. My little sister was holding the bunny close to her chest, when a friend of ours approached and jokingly said that he’d buy it for 100 UAH. I told him it wasn’t for sale, but I could sew him a similar one… and that’s how it all began. I realized that I could make more money this way,” says Alisa.

In the end, the Ponomarenko family managed to raise about 200,000 UAH for Valeriy’s treatment.

Alisa also creates toy animals that she sells to help children suffering from cancer. Photo: courtesy of Yulia Ponomarenko

Despite her daily involvement in such charitable projects, Alisa also takes time to study, do homework, and tune in to online lessons. She also works online with music and dancing tutorials, and even finds time to play with her brother and sister. Using some of the funds, Alisa’s parents plan to provide her with a private working area so that this ambitious young girl can realize her dreams and objectives.

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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