Masks and faces in Germany and Laos

All Posts, Global Citizenship, Savannakhet University (SKU)

Hello and Sabaidee everyone! 

My name is Chelsea Hog and I was part of the “Bi-directional Learning and Teaching in Laos” project as a member of Team X, and I worked as a volunteer at the VEDI – the Vocational Education Development Institute in Vientiane from 8 February to 17 March  2020.

Unfortunately, my team members and I had to return earlier from Laos due to the outbreak of COVID-19, as did Rebecca Dengler, who we had met one weekend in Vientiane. We decided to leave Laos on the 17th of March. Consequently, like many other people, I then had a lot of spare time, so I decided to assist my mother with sewing face masks for the care-takers in a pensioners’ home.

Editor’s note: I asked Ms Hog if she might like to write a post about this topic, as I had just heard from another volunteer, Pauline Castillo (née Kern) from Team III, that she had also just started sewing masks. Then my mobile rang and it was Mr Napha. I remembered that his wife Ms Deuandavanh was an accomplished seamstress, so mentioned that two volunteers had just told me they had started to sew masks. On the next day, he sent me photos of the first masks that his wife had made. 

This article will focus on the use and effectiveness of face mask as a prevention measure for yourself and others, as well as on the differences of face mask habits of people in Laos and Germany.
Mr Napha Khothphouthone, who went to Germany in the context of a “Student Mobility” in the Erasmus+ project, and Pauline Castillo from Team III contributed this blog post as well – thank you both for that!

This blog post is meant to be an inspiration for “everybody out there”, as it shows that people can be – and are – very compassionate and positive all around the globe.

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), officially known as COVID-19 or Coronavirus, the demand for respiratory protection has increased rapidly. Consequently, there were two developments in Germany, but probably also anywhere else around the globe: Firstly, the prices of face masks climbed to unimaginable heights. Secondly, a massive shortage of any COVID-prevention equipment emerged, e.g. sanitiser or any other kind of disinfection, and face masks. Due to those new circumstances, many people around the globe started private face mask production in April. I made my first mask on 23rd March. 

Apart from medical or other official personnel, the WHO (World Health Organization) advises protection via face masks to two groups of people. The aforesaid groups encompass everyone who takes care of people who have or are suspected to have COVID-19, or people who have COVID-19 symptoms themselves. “If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with the suspected 2019-nCoV infection,” the WHO advises. These recommendations are implemented in many countries, e.g. the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Germany.

However, the German virologist Prof. Dr. Christian Drosten highlighted in an interview that the use of face masks can be very useful for the protection of the public. On the 3 rd of April, not long after the WHO statement, the Robert-Koch-Institute published a statement regarding the discussion on face masks. According to the latter, the general use of face masks or any other textile barrier can highly minimise the spread of droplets that might contain the virus, unbeknown to its carrier.

Whereas the potential use of face masks is a completely novel approach to most European countries, wearing mouth guards is not that new for many Asian citizens. Before the Corona-crisis, the use of face masks was very unusual in Germany. Consequently, one seldom happened to see people with face masks on the streets or in any public place. Western people seem to have a different attitude when it comes to face masks, it seems they often connect face masks with attributes like danger, anxiety, or threat, probably because normally criminals wear them when they carry out crimes.1

This has been changing. More and more people have started wearing face masks to protect others or themselves when going outside. However, amongst many experts, the extensive use of face masks is controversial as its protective effect has not been scientifically proven yet (Drosten on the use of face masks).

As already mentioned, there is a shortage of standardised face masks. Consequently, automotive suppliers or textile factories implemented production changeovers to supply the market with goods humanity needs in this very hour. The German textile company “TRIGEMA- Trikotwarenfabrik Gebrüder Mayer”, for example, is manufacturing washable and reusable face masks for hospitals, retirement homes, or others in need. This approach saves jobs and has the potential to save lives, too. Initiated by campaigns on social media, radio spots, or aid organisations like the “Red Cross“, people started sewing face masks for their friends and families, and other peoples in need.2

When I had to return three weeks earlier from Laos than intended, I wanted to do something productive, too, so I started sewing face masks with my mother.

After the work on the masks was finished, the government officially announced the obligation of wearing face masks in shops and public transportation on 27th April. Consequently, everyone had to wear a face mask when entering a shop or travelling. From this point on, a lot of my friends asked me and my mother to start sewing again. After we sewed 25 more masks to provide our family and friends with them, we were finally finished.
Later, I decided to beautify my mask by adding a flower, a rainbow, and heart patches on it – just to add something nice on it. Whenever I wore the mask I received compliments from other people. Although the current situation can be very stressful for many people here in Germany, I always try to be as positive as I can. When I go out, I want to be kind, respectful, and patient.


Leisure time well spent!


Ms Pauline Castillo (née Kern),  a former member of Team III, went to Laos in 2016. She started sewing face masks for her relatives and friends as well and will continue sewing for the “Lebenshilfe”, a non-profit organisation for mentally disabled people and their families. She sent me the following message about her face mask production on 30 March:

“My name is Pauline and I went to Laos as a member of one of the first teams in 2016. It was me who taught the smallest ones, the ‘Mopsy’ classes, so I learned that Lao people are open to another culture and language from the beginning on. I loved the time I spent in Laos and I am still thankful for all the acquaintances I made and the cultural exchange I could experience. I am even still in contact with some of the teachers from Ban Sikeud primary school and Ban Pan Heng secondary school.

Right now I work in a primary school here in Germany, but due to COVID-19 all schools are closed and so I was searching for something helpful I could do to support my fellow-men. Last week I read a newspaper article which directly appealed to me. The ‘Lebenshilfe’ Karlsruhe is looking for people who can sew breathing masks for shop assistants, caretakers of elderly, and disabled people, and everybody working in close contact with human beings.

I know that these breathing masks do not prevent me or others from getting the virus, but it helps not to spread it in one’s close environment and protects the others, especially older and weaker people. So I unpacked my sewing machine and searched for some textiles for my help action. It was not easy to decide which of the offered patterns on the Internet to choose, but I found a good one and started sewing. Originally, I wanted to give them all to the ‘Lebenshilfe’, but after telling friends and family there has until now none been left because I gave all of the 20 masks to them. But I am not finished yet and still have time. By sewing these masks I want to show a light of humanity in these difficult times. So stay healthy and help too.”


How our partners in Laos are dealing with the situation

As the COVID-19 Pandemic is a global challenge, it has different impacts on different countries. As already mentioned, people from many Asian countries have different habits when it comes to the use of face masks. Mr Napha Khothphouthone is a lecturer at the Faculty of Natural Science of our partner university in Savannakhet and spent the summer term 2019 at our university in Kalrsruhe (s.a.). He comments on the change of face mask habits, the current situation in Laos, but also likes to spread positive thinking:


On 27 April, Mr Napha wrote this to me:

“Before pandemic of Covid-19 some of Lao people also wore the face mask in order to prevent dust (when go out because some of roads in Laos are non-asphalt road) and on the other hand is to prevent burning of UV. So wearing the face mask is usual habit here.
After pandemic of Covid-19 the demand of face mask is highly increasing that cause the price of it so high if we compare to the precious time (before spreading of Covid-19) for instance we normally buy 25,000 kip/box, (around 2.50 Euro/box) but now the price is 150,000 kip/box (around 15 Euro/box) it is very expensive for poor and middle class people. On the one hand highly demand cause highly price but on the other hand is there are some nasty people is taking advantage from the crises to store the mask and ask for the high price. To the negative points of Covid-19 everybody in the world has already known and hope it will has gone soon.
Nevertheless, the happiness is happen inside our mind, if we look deep down we can find the positive point of it as well, for example we can spend time with at home with family that we can not in the normal situation, we can help each other, we can help people by giving the mask. As my wife is the dress maker so she can produce and contribute the hand made mask by sewing I am not pretty sure if it is in standard or not but at less it is better than wear nothing. (We can gain happiness from giving because I strongly believe that ‘the happier is the giver not the taker’). We can be more conscious and more discipline when going out and meet people. As a Buddhist man I was taught that ‘everything is temporary’ Covid-19 as well. ‘This too shall pass.’”

People around the globe, like Mr Napha and his wife, Pauline, and many others show what compassion and helpfulness can mean in difficult times.


A sewing pattern for a perfect start 

In the section below you can find a collection of links with sewing patterns and tutorials on the production of face masks.

Disclaimer: Do-it-yourself face masks are not meant to replace any kind of standardised surgical face mask. They can be an alternative for those who have no access to surgical masks on the markets due to the shortage or delivery delays. If you have sewing skills and enough spare time, you can sew masks for your loved ones or donate masks to those in need.

Here is a useful link, just in case you want to start your own face-mask production: 

“Craft Passion” is a Craft Blog which provides  free (sewing) patterns and tutorials. The tutorial is excellent for sewing-beginners. This is because it is supported by a video from the blog owner. As the article is from 2013, it is frequently updated and reviewed.

I want to give special thanks to Pauline and Mr Napha for sharing their thoughts and actions with me for this blog post with their comments and pictures.

We all hope that you stay safe and healthy.


Text by C. Hog, editor’s notes by I. Martin

Photos by C. Hog, Mr N. Khothphouthone & P. Castillo



1 Editor’s note: Last year, one of my international students from Hong Kong appeared to a Square Dance Calling workshop wearing a mask. This had never happened in any of my classes before. There had once been a short fashion for male students to wear caps to class (or trying), but I explained that for open communication ongoing eye contact was important to me. Now I had eye contact with the Hong Kong student and was still not happy. I realised I needed to see mouths, too, for grasping facial expressions and reactions to what was going on in class so I could – if necessary – instantly adjust my teaching.
I asked her after class and she explained that this was a polite measure to protect us from her cold. This had not occurred to me. In Germany, when you have a cold, you just cough and sneeze into your hand. Now, whenever I will see my students again, we will probably all be wearing masks.

2 Editor’s note: Also, doctoral candidate Ms Miaoxing Ye started sending high-standard protective masks to Germany from her home in Wuhan. “Face the music”…



WHO “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: “When and how to use masks” (last accessed on 10 May 2020)

CraftPassion “Face mask sewing pattern”.

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