Six months into one of the worst factory disasters in the history of the country, Savar has now become synonymous with the Rana Plaza building collapse, which brought to light the appalling working conditions, little or no workers' benefits and low wages in the RMG sector.
However, behind the rubble and sordid remnants of the disaster, today there is a change happening which has become a driving force for some of the survivors.
This driving force is the one-room bag-making factory in a roadside store, which was initiated by a few voluntary rescue workers with an aim to rehabilitate some of the Rana Plaza’s survivors.
The factory, which started four months ago with six machines, has 26 machines and accommodates 20 workers with enough breathing space inside and a healthy working environment.
The factory, aptly named Oparajeyo (meaning "undefeated") by Kazi Monir Hossain Rintu, the man behind the concept, makes cotton and jute bags for local and international buyers.
Rintu, founder of an agro firm Bangal Agro, volunteered to rescue workers from the wreckage of the caved-in Rana Plaza building for consecutive eleven days in Savar.
He along with his friends raised funds for the rescue service under an organisation named Mukto Tarunnno. Once the rescue work was over they had about Tk100,000 left.
“We were wondering what to do with the money and at the same time noticed how the workers, exasperated and stone broke, were waiting in queue for food like beggars. We decided to have a small set-up for them,” Rintu told the Dhaka Tribune over phone.
“The factory is owned by the workers,” said Rintu. They receive around Tk3,500 for working nine hours a day, six days a week and are paid duly for putting in overtime. Fifty percent of the factory’s profit is equally distributed among the workers.
On top of that, Mukto Tarunno bears medical and educational expenses of the workers and their children. Workers at the factory said the hours are flexible and they are satisfied.
“What this factory does for us cannot be compared to that of the Rana Plaza in any way,” said 22-year-old Helena. “There is a lot of flexibility in our work hours. When we feel tired we are allowed to have a rest. Working at Rana Plaza was nothing like it.”
Helena, who used to work on the fourth floor of Rana Plaza, said she had been helped by the organisation since the day Rana Plaza collapsed. Helena’s husband, who worked in the same building as well, has been missing since and she has not received any compensation from the government.
Saleh Ahmed, in charge of accounts and admin section at Oparajeyo, said they had rehabilitated workers depending on their needs. Some workers, for example, who lost their limbs in the disaster have now been put in charge of grocery stores or raising cattle.
Many of the workers were provided with sewing machines so that they can work at home.
Mukto Tarunno has so far rehabilitated 37 workers in their villages apart from the 20 who currently work at the factory. It is expected to be expanded in December to accommodate 50 workers, and in January it will go for further expansion with the view to assimilating around 200 workers.
The jute bags and cotton bags produced there are selling both in the domestic and international market. The factory was named Oparajeyo out of respect for the survivors of the Rana Plaza collapse who had returned from the jaws of death.
“The message is: No matter how difficult it is, if people try they can stand tall and rise to the challenges of life. They can become invincible,” Rintu asserted.
Indeed, the workers at Oparajeyo looked confident and energetic, while many others still remain devastated with their loss from the tragedy.
Mukto Tarunno’s initiative has landed these workers in a better place, in a niche for hopes of a better tomorrow in the same working field that had betrayed them only six months ago.