Bangladesh's 'miracle' survivor builds new life

Friday 25 April 2014 12.25
Bangladeshi garment worker Reshma Akter was rescued after 17 days from the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building
Bangladeshi garment worker Reshma Akter was rescued after 17 days from the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building

A year on from the world's worst garment factory disaster a "miracle" survivor, who was plucked from the rubble in Bangladesh after 17 days, has married and found a new job.

The case of Reshma Akhter, 19, was a rare bright spot in the Rana Plaza catastrophe on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka on 24 April last year.

The building collapse killed 1,138 people and injured more than 2,000 others.

Images of Ms Akhter being pulled from the wreckage appeared on newspaper front pages worldwide and turned her into a national heroine.

Like thousands of other survivors, as well as the rescuers who often had to perform impromptu amputations on the spot, Ms Akhter still suffers from insomnia and panic attacks.

But she married her boyfriend in a ceremony in her village in northern Bangladesh in February and is enjoying a new job in a hotel run by the international chain Westin, which approached her after her ordeal.

"I enjoy the job. This is completely the opposite of the work of a garment factory. The job is sober and relaxed," she said, adding that she would never set foot in a clothing factory again.

Speaking to AFP at her sister's home just metres from the site of the disaster, Ms Akhter said she joined one of the five factories in Rana Plaza just 22 days before it caved in.

Her basic monthly salary was 4,700 taka (€43) working a ten-hour daily shift.

A year later, she said she has not received any compensation from a trust fund financed by Western retailers to compensate survivors, which has received only €10m instead of a targeted €28m.

"I only got some money from the prime minister and private donors," she said.

She said she has become more religious since the experience, offering regular prayers for others in the garment sector and her late colleagues.

"I also pray our garment factories are safe so that none have to die there," she said.

Despite the trauma she still suffers, she said she is looking forward to life with her new husband and plans to move into a bigger home with him.

"We knew each other for years, as we had been neighbours. He is a good guy and cares for me," she explained.