These were the opening lines of our conversation with Tamara Savović, Director of the Women’s Shelter in Sombor, the institution that initiated the charitable activity titled “The Shelter’s Wholehearted Support to Its Fellow Citizens” – the solidarity-inspired manufacture of protective masks.
The town of Sombor and Zapadna Bačka District, like most actors in the global theatre at this moment of profound crisis caused by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, found themselves in an inconvenient position of not being able to provide the basic protective equipment at a short notice, in particular the protective masks for its citizens. At the time of the increasing demand in the community, one entity – the Women’s Shelter in Sombor and its current and former clients – has made a remarkable contribution.
Shortly after the Shelter’s announcement in the social media that it would make its professional sewing machines available for the manufacture of masks, a client of the Shelter came in offering to provide sewing training to other volunteers, and that was the beginning of a very successful initiative. Talking about the motivation to participate in the activity, one of the volunteers – herself a former client of the Women’s Shelter – emphasized the willingness to help other people as indisputable. “Being positive and helping others” – these words epitomize the face of this solidarity.
At this moment, one month after the manufacture of masks began, the Shelter produces up to 200 pure cotton masks every day, through relentless effort put in by about a dozen clients and other volunteers who responded to the invitation published in the social media. The new volunteers are trained by a client of the Shelter who works in a textile factory. The material is provided by “S-Leasing” and the town of Sombor, and the distribution of masks is conducted in line with the identified priorities. The first ones to receive the masks are the people whose daily work entails contacts with the largest number of people, the employees of public utility companies, health professionals and taxi drivers who provide transportation to health professionals free of charge. “The rural women’s associations in our district are very active and we have cooperated with them from the beginning. As a result, the members of our rural communities will also receive all the support they need at this moment”, said Director Tamara Savović about the scope of this growing initiative.
To describe the motivation and quickness of the Shelter to take action, Tamara started her account with events of (as far back as) two years ago. The Shelter, empty at the time, provided accommodation to young people from Switzerland who had come to Sombor as part of the Development and Cooperation Initiative. As a sign of gratitude for the Shelter’s hospitality, the young guests left gifts of artistic value – the murals. However, the expressions of gratitude continued in the form of five professional sewing machines that arrived in Sombor shortly after. As the Shelter also regularly collaborates with educational institutions, it quickly established a partnership with the Textile School, whose students were predominantly girls. The teaching staff and students of the Textile School helped to prepare the sewing machines for work. The Shelter, for its part, provided training to the students in gender equality and the prevention of violence.
“Victims of violence are manufacturing goods that are in high demand and short supply at the moment”, she summarized the work of the Shelter’s current and former clients, putting in their skills and time into volunteer work so that their fellow citizens can have adequate access to coronavirus prevention measures. Indefatigable in their ambition, this solidarity-infused team of women were inspired by this initiative to establish the “Sombor Seamstresses” association. They will expand their assortment of products by including bedding, and their operations will continue after the end of the current crisis.
Before the publication of this article, a shipment of masks was being prepared for other shelters throughout Serbia, while an owner of a sewing machine from Zrenjanin responded to the invitation with an offer to make her machine available for the duration of the initiative, on “condition” that the manufactured masks also be distributed to the Zrenjanin Hospital. Director Tamara and the volunteers of this initiative readily accepted this offer, stressing their readiness to rise to this challenge.
Indeed, the excellence of this initiative lies in this personal mark that they leave on the concept of solidarity. The continuous cooperation of local community stakeholders is the cornerstone of response to what has appeared in some places as a paralyzing crisis. However, the aspect of this initiative that is truly timeless is the insistence on solidarity. The Sombor Shelter unfalteringly looks in the eyes of the crisis, as crisis situations describe the nature of its identity.
Therefore, when Director Tamara says: “For me, it is very important to see that a woman, who was sadly in the situation to have to use our services, over time becomes strong, important and dignified in her town”, it comes as no surprise that these words will bring any listener to see the direct link between the community in need and its most vulnerable members – women victims of violence. The Sombor Shelter and its clients are aware, and also keep proving that through this initiative, that solidarity is not the outcome, but rather the precondition of (a good) life.
The Sombor Shelter was founded in 2011 with financial support from the B92 Fund and, to date, has provided direct support in the form of accommodation and in-house programmes to more than 250 clients. The Shelter privdes assistance and support exclusively to women who are victims of violence and their children. In the past nine years, the Shelter has built a reputation of a reliable partner in the provision of social protection in Zapadna Bačka District.
Helpline available to the victims of violence 24/7: +381 62 787 375
The e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org is open to all entities/individuals interested in joining the initiative.