Mask-making Relief Society sisters in Colombian city deliver protection, hope

Days ago, a small team of New York Times journalists posted a sobering account of their recent road trip across a wide swath of Colombia, a South American nation staggering from the ongoing pandemic. 

Included in their travels was a stop in Bucaramanga — a lush, mid-sized city in the country’s north end possessing the apt moniker “La Ciudad de Los Parques” (the City of Parks).

Despite its interior locale, Bucaramanga has not escaped COVID-19’s attention. As seen in a growing number of cities across Latin America, Bucaramanga and its neighboring communities are fighting a pitched battle against the disease. Quarantines, reports on new cases and, sadly, death updates are part of the region’s daily routine. 

And like their counterparts across the globe, Latter-day Saints there are enlisted in the fight to halt the virus’s spread, one face mask at a time.

A Relief Society sister from Bucaramanga, Colombia, crafts face masks as part of a local service project to protect others from COVID-19.
A Relief Society sister from Bucaramanga, Colombia, crafts face masks as part of a local service project to protect others from COVID-19. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Crews of Relief Society sisters from the greater Bucaramanga area are joining forces to produce and distribute hundreds of face masks to communities being hit hardest by the virus.

Call it a Colombian version of the well-publicized ProjectProtect face mask effort that originated recently at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

“In our ongoing quest to serve others, our sisters see this as an opportunity to take action,” Villa de San Carlos Ward (Bucaramanga Colombia Stake) Relief Society President Ludivia Gallego told the Church News.

Villa de San Carlos Ward Bishop Edward Torres said the face mask effort is unifying families and individuals, including many who do not actively participate in Church activities.

“We hope the message of the Savior reaches people who are facing physical and spiritual challenges due to the pandemic,” said Bishop Torres. “We are serving our members, and all of God’s children.”

Working from the safety of their home sewing rooms, the local Relief Society sisters are following a specific design pattern to sew the masks. The homemade masks are then distributed to areas in need across the Bucaramanga region, often with the help of the brethren assisting with transportation.

“I have felt joy and satisfaction knowing I am fulfilling the Lord’s mandate to serve others,” Cristina Villamizar told Newsroom.

Gallego, Villamizar and other Relief Society volunteers are working in conjunction with local civic organizations to ensure that the masks are being delivered and utilized by their most vulnerable neighbors, including the elderly and people with health challenges.

Each donated face mask, said Gallego, represents “a huge smile” from the Relief Society sisters. The protective masks may cover much of the face — but the gratitude of mask recipients can’t be hidden behind cloth.

Priesthood holders from Bucaramanga, Colombia, deliver sacks filled with homemade face masks crafted by local Relief Society sisters.
Priesthood holders from Bucaramanga, Colombia, deliver sacks filled with homemade face masks crafted by local Relief Society sisters. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“Your generous hearts are what Colombia and the world needs,” a representative from the San Francisco Javier Senior Center told members during a recent mask distribution effort.

While the Bucaramanga-area mask project was initiated by Relief Society sisters in the Villa de San Carlos Ward, other Relief Society units across the city are joining the mask-making efforts.

Gallego said helping others protect themselves from the highly-infectious virus is a blessing to all those operating sewing machines and crafting and distributing face masks.  

“This has been such an enriching experience,” she added. “This is the Savior’s gospel … and we have been again reminded that so much more is earned by giving than receiving.”