Winnipeg seamstress donates hundreds of face masks to newcomers in memory of mother

A Winnipeg seamstress made and donated hundreds of face masks to recent newcomers, to help keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic — and as a tribute to her mother, who died a year ago.

Suhaiba Ahmed, owner of Nile Bridal and Alterations in South Pointe, has made between 200 and 300 masks for people staying at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba.

She says it’s something her mother — who taught her how to sew and to help others — would do.

“Doing these masks is not easy,” said Ahmed, adding that she spent between 10 and 15 hours per day making them last week.

“I just remember [my mother] and I just keep working,” she said. “I’m sure she would do the same thing — she would not get tired, she’d just keep going and work, and feel like she has to do this, she has to do her part.”

Ahmed immigrated to Canada in 2000. She landed in Vancouver, before moving eastward to Winnipeg in 2001.

Ahmed became a seamstress in the early 2000s, working for a woman who lived across the street, before setting out on her own in 2007. (Submitted by IRCOM)

“We come from zero, and we got a lot of help here,” she said. “I went back to school … but ended up going with my passion which is sewing.”

Ahmed, who “already had a background about sewing and how to do simple alterations,” first applied to be a seamstress at a shop owned by a woman who lived across the street from her in Winnipeg, she said.

Years later, in 2007, Ahmed started her own operation from her basement, and worked there until she was able to open her own store in 2011.

After the COVID-19 pandemic came to Manitoba, a medical student attending the University of Toronto contacted Ahmed, asking to order seven reusable fabric masks.

At the time, Ahmed was trying to think of a way she could help people. The request for masks sparked the idea to create some for other new immigrants.

“For me, I already have an established business, and I can apply for [government funding], I have access to information,” said Ahmed.

“Most of [the newcomers] have to work even with the circumstance, and something like this, I felt, maybe would help.”

Ahmed made a few different mask designs before settling on one she liked. (Submitted by IRCOM)

After sending masks to the U of T student, Ahmed created several designs for other masks. Once she created a pattern she liked, she got to work.

She’s paying for the necessary materials with federal funding she’s receiving as a small-business owner whose store is closed due to the public health order.

“It’s tight,” she says, “but it’s enough.”

Although she hopes the pandemic will end soon, Ahmed says she’s going to continue her services until she can no longer.

“Even if I could save one person from not getting this disease, it’s worth it.”

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