A South African SME is on a mission to get one million face shields to pupils and teachers across the country to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the nation’s schools.

This week, Cape Town-based online printing store, Webprinter Online Printing, distributed 15 000 face shields to 30 schools.

Peter Kohnert, managing director at Webprinter Online Printing, said the company developed its 1millionsmiles initiative to support the schools that most needed protective equipment.

“We wanted to help and saw nobody was thinking about the schools. We saw reports that up to 80% of schools had no protection, so we reached out to schools,” said Kohnert.

Through partnerships with its suppliers, Webprinter Online Printing produces the disposable face shields at a cost of R10.

“We will beat this crisis by standing together. Keeping our educators safe is critical, and our colourful disposable face shields have been specifically designed with them in mind. The shield provides much-needed protection while incorporating a clear window. This allows pupils to see the educator’s face which is an important aspect for effective teaching,” said the company in a statement on its website.

Donors have the option to sponsor a specific school. Or, they can make a cash donation and Webprinter Online Printing selects a school in need.

The shields are 100% locally produced, so the project helps to create jobs. Kohnert said the initiative was attracting support from international donors.

This initiative comes during a time of uncertainty about whether schools are ready to re-open after a two-month lockdown.

Initially, all schools were set to open on 1 June. However, Angie Motshekga, Basic Education Minister, postponed this to 8 June. The reason for the delay was because schools said they had not received protective equipment.

Days before schools were set to re-open, teachers tested positive for COVID-19 at two Western Cape schools. And teachers’ unions have called on their members not to return to school if they were not satisfied with the school’s protection measures.

In addition, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the wellbeing of children was critical.

In his weekly newsletter, the president said schools would only be allowed to re-open if children and teachers would be kept safe.

“As parents, teachers, governing bodies and government, we are in agreement that no school should re-open until all the necessary precautions are in place. There needs to be transparency about the level of preparedness of each of the schools. Everyone who is a key role player, be they a parent, a school governing body member, a teacher or a government official should be able to have the correct information about the state of preparedness of each school. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the learning environment is safe.”

Efforts like 1millionsmiles are an example of this kind of shared responsibility, said Trevor Gosling, Lulalend CEO and co-founder.

“It’s been encouraging to see small businesses, like Webprinter Online Printing, step forward to play a role in the response to COVID-19. We’re incredibly inspired by the team’s commitment to protecting schoolchildren and fighting the spread of coronavirus.”

Kohnert had a message for other organisations that wanted to help during the COVID-19 crisis:

“Anybody can help. Yes, we have this huge goal of 1 million people, but every little bit helps. We can all look around us. Every kind of SME can help in some way, and we’ll start to trigger a chain reaction. A lot of small steps is a lot better than two or three big steps.”

To donate, visit the 1millionsmiles website or its page on Thundafund.

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