Alternative income opportunities for Rana Plaza survivors

Marium Begum counts herself “very lucky” to be alive, thanks to the firefighters who pulled her from the debris 24 hours after the Rana Plaza building complex collapsed in April 2013.

A month after recovering fully from her injuries, Begum had to take a job at a garment factory in Savar in order to feed her children. But the memory of the worst garment factory disaster in history, in which over 1,130 people died, still haunts her. Most of the victims were women, and four of her co-workers who died were a metre away from her when the building collapsed.

German Aid
Md Ibrahim (right) and Marium Begum (centre) were among Rana Plaza building collapse survivors who attended a new skills-training programme in Dhaka last month funded by the German government. [Kamran R Chowdhury]
Since then, the German Agency for International Co-operation (GIZ) has come forward to create alternative job opportunities for Rana Plaza survivors like Begum.

Tarango, a local NGO funded by GIZ, has begun training 500 of the 2,500 surviving Rana Plaza workers in other industries. Begum received training in animal husbandry.

The mother of two, who is married to a textile worker, lost an arm in the collapse. She still suffers related psychological and physical ailments.

While working the second garment job and prior to taking the new job in animal husbandry, the enduring memory of the disaster makes it hard for her to concentrate, Begum said.

“Every time it seems the roof is falling on me. I had to quit the job after seven days as the phobia made me sick,” Begum told Khabar South Asia

A new start for survivors

On September 17th, the retrained workers showcased their products at the German Club in Dhaka.

“In response to the Rana Plaza building collapse, the German government committed more than 2.5m euros ($3.2m) to support the victims and their families. I’m delighted to see productive outcomes of this unique project today,” Ferdinand von Weyhe, Chargé d’Affaires at the German Embassy in Dhaka, told the workers.

The participants were given specialised training in such businesses as handicraft-making with recycled cement and jute, animal husbandry, groceries and running tea stalls.

Laboni, another of the beneficiaries, learned to make bags out of jute.

“I will never work in garment factories again. This training has given me a new lease on life. Now, I can maintain my family,” she told Khabar.

Tarango buys their products and exports them, mainly to Europe. The training given to the workers went beyond teaching them new skills, Tarango Chief Executive Officer Kohinoor Yeasmin told Khabar.

“Most of the survivors have been suffering from some sort of trauma. We have been counselling them before the training and they are coping with it,” she said.

Md Ibrahim, who suffered a severe head injury in the Rana Plaza collapse, told Khabar he was forced to leave a textile factory job because the noise made him sick.

“I have started a grocery shop in my village in Lalmonirhat. This training on grocery shops helps me make more profits,” he said. “It has taught me how to maintain a ledger and calculate profit margin”.

– By Kamran R. Chowdhury for Khabar South Asia in Dhaka