Those struggling alone

Sajeda Begum

This is the story of three women with different stories but same struggles. Sajeda Begum, Nur Jahan and Mahbuba Akter all survived the Rana Plaza tragedy, but long before that, they have been alone in their struggle for livelihood as a single-parent.

Sajeda (35) lost her husband when her only daughter was only 20 days old. She realized early on that the responsibility of raising her daughter was solely hers and no one else’s. She migrated from Comilla soon after husband’s demise and joined a garments factory on 4th floor in Rana Plaza. As she had no family to support her, there were days when she would lock her daughter in the house when going out to work and neighbours would sometimes give the little girl food through the window. Sajeda is yet to recover fully from the injuries she sustained from the building collapse. On the positive side, because of her health card she managed a waiver on the fees for a surgery she required. But for self-reliant Sajeda, the challenge lies somewhere else. Though she received a number of trainings and financial assistance and from various sources, she was unable to put these to use because of frequent and pro-longed hospital stays. At present, the fiercely independent Sajeda works at a small single-storied restaurant and runs her own clothing business in her spare time.

File 39534Sajeda Begum

In her own words, Sajeda says ‘I will work as a domestic help in someone’s house, but will never go back to a garments factory, never again in a building- a tin-shed building maybe but never a building- never- never.’

Nur Jahan (40) worked as a cleaner in the 6th floor of Rana Plaza and was rescued on the same day as the collapse. Sustained injuries in her head and chest did not allow her to work three years after the tragic occurrence. For those three years, she depended solely on the financial assistance she received as she is the single income earner of the family. She spent some of the money for her daughter’s marriage and also used it to pay for her children’s education. When she went back to wage employment, she still could not imagine going back to garments factories as the fear was very much a part of her everyday life.

File 39535Nur Jahan

She took up working as domestic help but even there she could not work more than 10 days at a stretch, thus was unable to sustain wage employment. She is currently self-employed and sells clothes from door-to door. But even in this case, it’s not without challenges. Her injuries have left her physically unfit and she is unable to put in the kind of effort that is needed for her business to flourish. She came from Gaibandha with her young children in the hope of a better future, but the tragedy in 2013 has left her helpless and unsure about what the future holds for her. She believes that financial assistance, especially for her children’s education, can ease her burden.

Mahbooba (30) sustained injuries in her neck, back and left knee when she fell as the roof caved above her head. She worked in a garments factory on the 7th floor. A single mother, Mahbooba lives with her mother, brother, sister and seven-year old son. Her earning from a tailoring shop is barely enough to support her family but despite this she does not see her herself going back to garments factory. ‘I can’t even dare to stand in front of the gate of a factory’ she says as the fear of the collapse continues to haunt her. Even after five years, she suffers from her injuries and spends 500-600 BDT on medication every other month. Having received a three-month tailoring training from an NGO in 2013, she is now teaching her younger sister in the hope that the two of them can work together and perhaps establish her own enterprise in the future. One can easily sense her deep resolute because despite the hardship, she sees the positive side and says that perhaps because of the disaster, she was pushed by the situation to gain new set of skills and can consider employment options other than garments industry. ‘If I could establish my own enterprise, I can do better than what I could not have done even if I worked in a garments factory for ten years.

File 39536Mahbuba Akter

She wants to translate the acquired skills into productive purposes and assistance from all relevant quarters can make her dream comes true.