"> Sami Al Islam"> Kazi Munir Hossain In the midst of disaster there is always hope. But while a disaster may occur in a split second, hope is more often cultivated over time, with patience and effort. Aparajeyo, a bag factory in Savar, may look like a small-scale enterprise, but there is more to it than that. It is an enterprise of hope.
"This establishment has helped me with my medical and household expenses as I support my elderly parents and myself," said 27-year-old Sabina Khatun, who works at the factory. Like the other 16 workers of Aparajeyo, she was a victim of the Rana Plaza tragedy.
The eight-storied building in Savar collapsed on April 24, claiming over a thousand lives and injuring scores. While it was the worst factory tragedy in Bangladesh, it brought out the compassionate side of people. Many came forward to help rescue and rehabilitate the survivors.
Like many Bangladeshis and others from around the world, Sami Al Islam was deeply moved by the disaster. Wanting to do something about it, he worked with a Facebook group called Mukto Tarunyo to set up an establishment that could offer the survivors an opportunity to earn a living.
“When we first collected donations from family and friends to help the survivors, we visited Enam Medical [at Savar] and other medical camps where many victims wanted to know if we could do something to help them earn again,” said Sami.
“That was when we thought of opening a small, one-storied establishment for them. With the help of Kazi Munir Hossain Rintu, a mechanical engineer long involved in rehabilitation work, Major Khalid Raihan, general manager of Beximco, and Fayeza Sultana of the ICDDRB, we bought some equipment and found a local landlord willing to rent space at a low rate.
"> A Rana Plaza survivor working at Aparajeyo factory set up in Savar only for the traumatised victims of Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster. Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
“And we call it Aparajeyo,” he explained.
The factory is owned by the workers and the profits are divided equally among them. “We currently make cotton bags and have already delivered an order to Family Needs in Uttara. We have orders from several NGOs to supply bags for their training programmes," said Rintu.
"We are also considering manufacturing jute bags, and we are currently collecting funds to start a two-line garment factory in the upcoming months.”
Aparajeyo received machines donated by doctors from the capital's Birdem Hospital as well as generators, irons and cutting machines from others. “On the day of our opening, about 400 to 500 people came to work,” Rintu mentioned.
He added, “We decided to select those who were less skilled and therefore less likely to find work elsewhere. We discovered that donations, both government and private, went mainly to those who had lost limbs. Those who had suffered lesser injuries did not receive adequate compensation. We decided to help those people.”
Nilufa Yasmin and many others like her are now leading better lives thanks to these efforts. She was at her workstation in Rana Plaza when it collapsed. “My head and lower back were injured and I cannot lift heavy things,” she observed.
“I have two small children to support and my husband left me. I also support my parents. I received no compensation from the government and had to pay for my treatment myself. Through the Rana Plaza trade union I heard about Aparajeyo,” she said.
“They helped us a lot by paying for our treatment and making sure we earn a living. I don't have to worry about my family as much any more.”