“I haven’t been able to do anything for eight months now. I feel traumatised and my arm hurts. I basically can’t work anymore and I dont know if I ever will be able to step into a factory again.”
Shila Begum had worked in a factory in Rana Plaza for over two years when on April 24th 2013 her life was changed forever as the building collapsed around her.
In 2012, after her husband died, Shila and her daughter had to move to Dhaka to find work in 2012, after her husband had died. She had spent the previous seven years staying at home taking care of the children, but with her husband’s death this was no longer an option, she had to take care of the family income.
When they came to Dhaka, Shila and her daughter moved into a room in Savar, an area built on swamps, with factories scattered across it. One of these factory buildings was Rana Plaza.
For over two years, Shila worked in the Rana Plaza building, first as a helper, cutting out thousands of threads from hems, pockets and waists. She then moved up to become a sewing operator, with two helpers. Her days were long, mostly ten hour shifts and her and the other women usually got just one day off per week.
The day before the building collapsed all the workers had been ordered out when major cracks had appeared in the walls. The following day, April 24th, Shila says no one wanted to enter the building . ‘”I still went back. If enough people hit you, you do what they say. [But] you could see the tension in people’s eyes.”
A few minutes after she had begun working at her sewing machine, the electriticity went off and the generator switched on.
“I felt a shock and the floor gave way. People started running in chaos and the ceiling came down. I kept protecting my head, but I got stuck between the rubble. My hand got stuck and I thought I would die. People around died, some had their eyes popping out and their intestines coming out.”
Shila lay trapped in the rubble for a full day, like many of those around her she was screaming out for help. Finally at 5pm someone came to rescue them. “They tried to pull the concrete plates that were on top of us. From boths side of the plates people were pulling me and they managed to get me out. [But] the weight of the concrete had pulled my uterus out so they took me to the hospital. At 11pm they removed my uterus completely.”
While we were interviewing Shila the effects of the trauma she experienced that day are very apparent, when the generator in the room where we are sitting switches on there is panic in her eyes and she says she’s scared, so we move outside.
“I need medical treatment and I have dreams for my child, so I need to earn money. The tuition fees might be low, but all the materials you need to buy, like shoes, books, uniform and the exam money comes on top of this. I have a smart daughter but no way to get this money now.”
Shila was interviewed by the Clean Clothes Campaign in Dhaka in November 2013.