By Dot Dannenberg and Glenda Palomino-Nuflo
U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Glenda Palomino-Nuflo’s dining room in Doha has not seen a dinner party since before the pandemic. Instead, her dining table is covered in fabric—bolts of donated material, used clothes, and pillowcases—all being sewn into masks for service members.
Al-Udeid Air Force Base in Doha, Qatar, hosts more than 8,000 U.S. military personnel and is responsible for all coalition air operations in the Middle East and Central Asia. In Doha, where wearing a mask out in town has been compulsory since mid-May, Palomino-Nuflo, an eligible family member (EFM) and Navy medical service corps officer, had an idea of how to help.
Collaborating with Jill Bordelon-Munir and Army of Masks, a group that makes masks for healthcare workers, Palomino-Nuflo formed the Mask the Base initiative. She recruited nearly 50 volunteers from nine different countries—including staff and other EFMs from the embassy, members of the American Women’s Association of Qatar, the local sewing group Doha Stitches, and neighbors in her housing compound.
In a time of quarantine and separation, Mask the Base has brought Palomino-Nuflo closer to her neighbors. The effort also follows similar initiatives launched by military volunteers worldwide. Sewing masks created unexpected social connections and renewed a sense of community volunteerism in these days of social distancing.
“I never met them before—we didn’t talk, even though they lived right next door,” she said.
To date, Mask the Base has sewn more than 1,200 face masks for deployed military personnel in Qatar, supplementing the already robust protective gear provided to these servicemen and women. Palomino-Nuflo also worked with local organizations to make the operation environmentally sustainable. In addition to the used clothes and fabric donated by Qataris and expatriates, Mask the Base volunteers save fabric scraps for the Qatar Animal Welfare Society to use for pet bedding.
“We were able to focus on doing something positive for others as opposed to dwelling on what we lost because of the pandemic,” Palomino-Nuflo said. “It gave us a new sense of community and purpose.”
Lieutenant Glenda Palomino-Nuflo is an EFM and U.S. Navy Reserve medical service corps officer. Dot Dannenberg is the community liaison office coordinator at Embassy Doha.