In December 2019, 20-year-old Karishma completed a course at Yuva Junction, where she learned sewing skills to make women’s clothes. Now, she’s sewing face masks for vulnerable families in her rural community in northern Bihar, India, and is an important part of the Aga Khan Development Network’s response to COVID-19.

Developing youth skills in rural India

Yuva Junction is a skills and entrepreneurship development center in India that prepares rural youth for meaningful jobs in the changing economy. Yuva Junction is run by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) in India and supported by Microsoft, Nokia, Quest Alliance, Axis Bank Foundation and Government of Gujarat. Last year, their innovative training programs were recognized as a promising solution for youth employment by the World Bank Group’s Solutions for Youth Employment Initiative.

An implementing partner of the Aga Khan Foundation, AKRSP has been working to support rural communities in India for decades. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolved and wearing face masks became a requirement, AKRSP knew the families they work with would have trouble finding masks.

Girl wearing a face mask uses a sewing machine in a youth skills development center

At around the same time, Karishma called AKRSP to find out how to cope with the economic effects of COVID-19. Together, Karishma and AKRSP came up with a plan for Karishma to make face masks to meet the needs of her community. At first, she found it difficult to make the high-quality, reusable masks, but she quickly mastered the skill and now makes 70 to 80 masks a day. She’s also helping other women in her community learn how to make masks to meet high demand for the low-cost masks.

Meeting current needs while dreaming of the future

By making the masks, Karishma is earning enough money to support her parents and three siblings during the pandemic. Her father is unable to work because of movement restrictions caused by COVID-19 and weather damage to crops, but Karishma’s new skill allows her family to buy essential supplies.

AKRSP is expecting the demand for masks to stay high, and is on target to reach one million masks created in the next few months. As Karishma works with AKRSP to meet that goal, she’s also dreaming of her future. “I would like to establish my own enterprise,” she says.