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A woman from Barcelona’s street vendors union sews protective face masks for the use of health care workers whose supplies are running low, March 2020 © 2020 Sindicato Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes/Top Manta

Amid the bleak reality of a third week in lockdown for residents of Barcelona, including my family, community-based solidarity offers glimmers of hope and dignity.

The COVID-19 virus killed more than 8,000 people across Spain in March. The public health system is under unprecedented strain, with supplies of personal protective equipment running low.

Barcelona’s street vendors (manteros in Spanish, or manters in Catalan), most of whom come from sub-Saharan Africa, face a particularly uncertain future as the government-imposed lockdown forbids non-essential economic activity. They have long expressed concerns about discriminatory identity checks and disproportionate use of force by police and public transport security and xenophobic attitudes from the public.

No longer allowed to sell their wares, some street vendors have joined forces with a local clothing company to sew masks and aprons for health workers whose supplies are running low. They are using the initiative to raise awareness of the situation of manteros who have no way of earning their usual living, and to collect money for a food bank set up to provide essential supplies to members of their community whose already precarious income has been reduced to nothing.

The manteros are not alone in demonstrating solidarity with health workers. Refugees and people without homes have begun sewing masks in a shelter in Barcelona, and had made 1,000 by the end of last week.

Local community handicraft groups have begun to collect donations to buy garbage bags and sew them into makeshift aprons for hospital workers running low on supplies. Our children’s sewing teachers are leaders in this new social media-organized movement to make sure no health-care worker is left without an apron.

These acts of solidarity are based on the hope that we’ll make it through the crisis together, bound by the simplest of common bonds. It is the translation into action of cities around the world applauding essential workers keeping our societies running.

These acts demonstrate the value of human dignity and recognition of the importance of basic human rights beyond times of crisis: the right to health, the right to safe and dignified working conditions for health workers, and the right to have enough food to put on the table. They offer a positive vision of ways of living together and prioritizing respect for rights that we must not forget once the virus has passed.

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