The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh three years ago was the worst ever industrial accident in the global garment industry. For some time I’d been passionate about mainstreaming fair trade and purchasing products in line with my values, however when I saw the chilling images from Bangladesh I became even more determined to use my life to “move the needle” in the global garment industry. To me, one of the most disturbing aspects of this disaster is that garment workers saw the cracks in the building before the collapse, but they were ordered by management to go back into the building. This silencing of voices resulted in the death of 1,138 workers and injury of nearly 2,600, many of whom require long-term medical care.
We will share some exciting messages next month around our brand launch, including how we embody our commitment to restorative justice for garment workers, however that’s not what I message you about today. In honor of the three-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse I write to share a sobering but also hopeful story from a Bangladeshi friend of mine, Rahat Hossain, who was a first responder in the aftermath. I know Rahat through my work with CriticaLink, an amazing organization where I am a founding Board member that is creating a network of volunteer emergency first responders dispatched through mobile tech.
As Fred Rogers said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world." Last year I had the privilege of visiting the CriticaLink team in Dhaka and meeting our Program Director Rahat, who was a first responder at Rana Plaza immediately after the collapse. Rahat shared his powerful story with me during this visit and I thought it was a story that needed to be told at this three-year anniversary mark. I know these stories are hard to tell, and I thank Rahat for sharing it with all of us and continuing to be a helper.
I was just sitting on the sofa with my friends and dreaming big about our vision for the future. Suddenly one of us got a text message from the Fire Safety Department about needing help for a building that had collapsed in Savar, Dhaka. We turned on the TV to see what was happening, and what we saw in that moment was shocking for us all. We felt like the whole country had collapsed and that time had stopped!! We learned Rana Plaza had collapsed, many people were dead, and many more were trapped. I felt a pull in my heart telling me to do something, but what could I do?
It was 25th of April 2013 when I went to Rana Plaza. It was nothing like what I saw on TV. I won’t forget those moments seeing people screaming their loved ones’ names, crying out loud. I went near a collapsed building to help people, as rescuing people was my primary goal. I immediately moved several injured people and a dead body. There was blood on my clothes, dust all over my body, my body was so sore, and I was sweating a lot. As I touched the bodies of injured people and the dead bodies I didn’t felt any emotions. In my mind I ignored everything and I wondered why I didn’t felt anything. Maybe it was my duty to put my emotions beside because I didn’t have time for them. The only thing on my mind was to find out who needed help and that I am here to help. Whenever we were rescuing people or moving dead bodies, the crowd was asking about their loved one’s condition, telling me their names and showing their pictures on their cellphone. I was telling them that I would definitely let them know if I saw them, but deep down I knew that I would never identify them in this situation. I didn’t want kill their hopes! I shouldn’t be in the position to do this!
I was there for one day, but when I came back I knew something had been changed in my heart. Something was telling me that we could have done more, much more. There were lots of my friends who volunteered and it affected all of us, making us realize if we don’t take steps for our country then who would?
We started sharing what we had experienced and researching what could have changed the situation. The thing we came to was a lack of training. Many of us had training in fire fighting and first aid, but most of the first responders had no training at all. We applied for a grant to provide us with training and teach people emergency response. However training wasn’t the only solution; we could have thousands of first responders in Bangladesh, but how could we connect this to people who need help? It was out of this desire that we founded CriticaLink, an organization connecting first responders to accidents of any type via a mobile phone application, connecting those who need help and who can help.
I’ve never publicly shared my experiences about Rana Plaza. I’ve only said that I was there and that I know there are lots of people out there who had the same experiences as me. We all kept our feelings inside and bear the pain in our hearts. Still today, whenever I remember that day, I pray silently for all of the victims.