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The home-made mask movement is growing. We can protect each other.

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

Bill Mollison, founder of Permaculture.

'Masks are for Asians'.

'Masks don't work'.

'I'd look silly'.

That's been the mood around masks in Australia, until now. I know the feeling. I lived in Japan for many years, and like all westerners, was scornful about their mask-wearing. 'Why don't they just stay home and get well?' Everyone knows leaky masks don't stop tiny viruses'. It turns out I listened to the wrong answer in a google search, all those years ago. But now with the COVID emergency, the scientific evidence came together. Masks, even home-made masks, are one of* the cheapest, least painful, and most overlooked tools we have in getting us through the pandemic intact. In the past week, authorities who campaigned against community mask-wearing are altering their stance. The countries that have succeeded in lowering their curve without shutting down the country are mask-wearing cultures: Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, South Korea. There is one more country who's success is a surprise: the Czech republic.

Less than a month ago Petr Ludwig, a Czech writer and science communicator created this masks4all video promoting the scientist-led masks4all campaign. It wasn't his job, he was just a normal guy, and he just did it. 'My mask protects you, your mask protects me' was the catchphrase. It struck a chord. It went viral. The teenagers, the bloggers, the grandmas of Czech republic went on a mask-making binge.

Images from Petr Ludwig's the Masks4All video

They turned kitchen tables into sewing studios, had mask-making parties, and gave away their masks for free. Ten days later, the government caught on, and joined up with the scientists and the people. They made it the national policy for masks to be worn in public. They still practice social distancing and handwashing. But they aren't going to sit in their homes for the next five years, waiting for a vaccine.

My first Mask

I improvised my first mask at my family's St Patrick's day gathering, the last day before our new Shutdown lives began. I had been in a train of potentially infected people, who'd been blabbering away at full velocity. Yes, talking spreads the virus. At home, I noticed a slight sniffle starting. My sisters and family were already on their way! I could have pretended I was fine, to keep things socially smooth. I could have pretended to myself that all my hand-washing made me 'safe'. As the girls were coming up the stairs, I scrabbled around in the linen press, the cutlery draw, and rigged up a hankie with rubber bands. I felt a jolt of embarrassment when I emerged. There was surprise in the eyes of the guests. A few minutes later, we got used to it, and the revelry began. My nieces had fun designing masks, and got me to make this video with them.

We can conserve proper disposable surgical masks for our healthcare workers. We can have fun and feel powerful and connected, making stashes of washable masks for ourselves and our friends.

Don't take it personally

Its good for your peace of mind to remember that your friends might feel differently to you on the wearing of masks, and a debate is highly unlikely to change anyone's mind. Lets just make our contribution, and be satisfied with it, and see where it goes. We've got a 'stay at home' rule in place, where the walls of people's homes function pretty much in the same way as a mask, so for as long as everyone stays home, no worries if they don't wear masks. Do be careful though: the wearing of masks is especially vulnerable to a display of 'righteousness'. Its a delicious and addictive feeling. I've learned to always be suspicious of myself when I'm feeling righteous. A pandemic is new for everyone, no one person or country has a monopoly on the 'right' way for everyone else to manage things. When you zoom out, there is always a bigger picture, and your 'rightness' suddenly isn't right. Or its even more 'right', but for reasons that hadn't occurred to you yet.

Who do we trust?

People in Authority, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Surgeon General are discouraging mask-wearing in favor of lockdown and waiting for a viral vaccine. It would be nice if 'authorities' were always 'experts'. I checked the dictionary, and found the word 'expert' comes from 'experience' and 'experiment'. To know if something is true, ask to see the data. Ask for peer reviews. Avoid rumors, the crowd is often right, and sometimes wrong. Check that a theory fits with the physics of life. Check that invisible facts are being taken into account. For example, heat rises, small viruses travel in big, catchable droplets, people without symptoms can be infectious. Be mindful of who is paying someone to say something, and who picks up the bill if things go wrong. Who is the WHO? Trust people with long, freely-chosen experience in their field, people whose work is their life-mission, done out of curiosity and desire to make a contribution. Navigating the opinions of our friends and allies is also an art. Be aware of how our strengths and weaknesses influence our conclusions, and don't write anyone off. For example, some people aren't good at managing change. These are the people who will either deny it is going to happen, or they approach change with extreme caution, then maintain the new way with steadfastness. Other people who are good at change might be unruly, and buzzing with conspiracy theories. But the change-lovers with solid experience and real-world experimentation behind them often have valuable insights into where the traps are, and guess a good path to safety. Just don't depend on them to stick around and put dinner on the table every night. We all have a role to play. Getting the right people in the right roles is the difference between paradise and catastrophe.

Cecilia making curtains for her share house 2009

Creating wellness daily

Our main job now is to resist focusing on sickness and wrongness, and choose to create wellness. Healthy bodies, but before that, healthy fridges of food, healthy soil, healthy thoughts and connection to others. If we traded in a day of Corona internet updates for a day of creating corona masks, creating anything, it would be a good choice. Encourage others by sharing to #masks4all and #Permaculturemasks4all

About the Author

Cecilia Macaulay has been independently designing storybook-style permaculture gardens and shareable living spaces for 28 years. Her work on Social Permaculture is featured in David Holmgren's 'RetroSuburbia', and blends Japanese culture and Permaculture to create harmony at home and in the world. She runs practical webinars on topics such as how to declutter and reset your kitchen sink, and 'force-free communication for managing annoying people gracefully'. She and her team do home consults, dividing their time between Inner Melbourne, and Gardenfarm, a beautiful permaculture community in South Gippsland. For inspiration, or to join the team, subscribe to

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