Learning to move forward

Learning to move forward

THe story of Shiulys

The story of Kabirs

Kabir Mollah was pulled out from under the remains of Rana Plaza four days after the collapse. Now every time he goes into a high-rise building, he gets anxious.

Shiuli Khanom was also rescued after four days. "Even though I survived, I felt hopeless," she says. "I couldn’t sleep. I had so many thoughts and worries. I was shaken and afraid and also physically weak."

Regardless of how individuals experience a disaster, the intense fear and helplessness they often feel afterwards can disrupt normal coping methods. "Traumatic experiences can turn a person’s entire belief system upside down," explained Sakila Yesmin, a trauma counsellor from BRAC University's Institute of Educational Development, who is also in charge of the team providing counselling support to the individuals helped and supported by this project. "They can trigger flashbacks, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which can last for a long time if not properly addressed."

Yesmin believes it is important to ensure that both survivors and their family members never feel alone. "Listening is an integral part of the healing process," she said. "That is why we were there from the beginning." Three days after the tragedy, Yesmin and a team of counsellors were deployed at the hospitals where the injured were admitted. The counsellors listened to the patients talk about their trauma, provided support and encouraged them to confide in their family and friends.

Soon after, those assisted by the programme attended a three-day psychosocial counselling session. "Our aim was to help them accept what happened," emphasised Yesmin. "They cannot change the past, but they can learn to recognise negative feelings and change them into positive ones using specific techniques." Some techniques include breathing exercises to release tension and methods to relieve sleep-related problems, among others. These practical techniques can help survivors reduce stress and improve their state of mind on a daily basis. Two months after the incident, the survivors were kept under observation through regular follow-up visits to keep track of their wellbeing.

"Sometimes when I’m alone, I remember and my head starts hurting. But then I tell myself to do the breathing exercises and I eventually feel better," said Mollah. "The counsellors taught us that if you keep reminding yourself of what you have lost, then you can never move forward." Access to psychosocial counselling and emotional support for both survivors and their families is critical for sustaining their lives. Therefore, additional group and individual counselling sessions are currently being provided.

Over the coming weeks, BRAC and Benetton Group will continue to showcase the experiences of those helped and their stories of recovery.

Anushka Zafar is a senior officer and sub-editor at BRAC Communications.

Nazma Begum worked on the seventh floor of Rana Plaza and was rescued the evening the building collapsed. “An iron rod went through my right arm,” she said. A small portion of the rod still remains, numbing sensation in parts of her hand. However doctors recommended removing it in two years’ time.

When she was selected by the BRAC and Benetton Group project for survivors of Rana Plaza, she saw the opportunity to do something of her own. “After part of my injury healed, I needed to find a new livelihood option to help me provide for my family and forget the pain of my trauma,” Nazma said.

Nazma chose to open a grocery store with the seed money and training received from BRAC, which taught her how to start a small business and make it flourish. “The BRAC field officers were by my side every step of the way,” she said. They helped project clients with all aspects of starting a business, from choosing the right location to picking the appropriate goods for their shops.

Nazma’s husband, Ahad, used to work as a security guard for another garment factory. “Nazma’s shop was doing well, so when I saw how demanding it was for my wife to run her own store, I decided to quit my job and help her,” he said.

Nazma is constantly looking for ways to expand her business while keeping herself busy. Prompted by her entrepreneurial flair, she added a sewing machine to her shop, taking tailoring orders from her customers. “I already had some tailoring skills, so I thought why not make an extra income out of it,” she explained

Nazma has big dreams for her daughters Atika and Alo, who are both good students. Alo is currently in college and says one day she hopes to attend police academy. Atika is in class 5 and wants to join the civil service when she is older.

When she is not working at her store or tailoring, Nazma produces decorative handicrafts and beaded bags. She sells them in local marketplaces and takes customised orders from others. “I like to stay busy with my work, but also spend as much time possible with my daughters,” she said.

After school, Alo takes computer lessons at a nearby centre. “The classes take place near my mother’s store,” she said. “My parents encourage me to study hard and broaden my horizons.”

“My wife and I work as a team,” said Ahad, who tends to the grocery store while his wife works on tailoring orders. “The money we make now may be less than what we earned when we both worked at factories, but we are happier. We are always looking for new and better ways to increase our income.”

Based on her customers’ demands, Nazma continues to add new inventory and even purchased a refrigerator. “Running my own store gives me the confidence I need to move past what happened,” said Nazma. “Now I can look forward to building a better future for myself and my family.

Rahela (25) used to stitch shirt collars in one of the garment factories inside Rana Plaza. “I used to work on the seventh floor,” she said. “I was rescued two hours after the collapse, but I suffered a hip injury.”

After recovering from her physical injuries, Rahela left Savar, moving back to her village in Manikganj with her two daughters, Limia (8) and Liza (2). The three live together in a house next to Rahela’s parents.

Rahela’s father has helped to build her a house next to his own. He is financially supporting his daughter and granddaughters until Rahela can get back on her feet and start earning again. “My oldest son works in Saudi Arabia and he sends us money, which helps us make ends meet,” he explained.

Moving back to her village with her parents has helped Rahela cope with the trauma she has been suffering after the building collapse. “My father is only a farmer, but I do everything I can to help him and my mother,” she said.

“Doing housework keeps me busy and helps me to get better,” Rahela said. She divorced her husband, a year before the Rana Plaza incident. As a single parent, she had been supporting her family on her own by working in the garments industry. Now it is important for her to find an alternate source of income. “I need to be able to support my family and raise my daughters,” she said.

Through the BRAC and Benetton Group project for Rana Plaza survivors, Rahela was assisted in finding a new work opportunity to ensure her family’s livelihood. Because she is now afraid to enter buildings, Rahela chose livestock management and was given a calf. Limia, Rahela’s oldest daughter has affectionately named their new calf Munia. “She is like my pet,” said Limia.

Rahela is happy with her choice because she can stay close to home. Before receiving the calf she attended a three-day training, facilitated by BRAC, on rearing and maintaining livestock. Today, BRAC field officers continue to follow up on Rahela and frequently check in on her calf’s progress.

During the training, participants were informed that livestock rearing is not a fast way to earn money. However, it is a sustainable source of income once the calf matures into a full-grown cow. Raising a cow in a rural village is almost cost free as there is abundance of grass and other natural food sources. Hence, Rahela is currently able to manage and provide for the calf without any financial constraint.

In a few years, Rahela hopes that her calf will grow up to be a good and steady source of income for her and her family. “I have big dreams,” she said. “After making some money by selling my cow’s milk, I want to start my own business of selling sarees from house to house.”

“I’m very proud of my daughter Limia,” said Rahela. “She was a star pupil back in her old school. The headmaster of the school here heard about my daughter and enrolled her free of tuition.”

A year after the tragedy, Rahela says she is starting to see a small glimmer of hope as she lifts herself from the trauma. “I want to be able to give my daughters a bright future,” she said, nursing her youngest, Liza.”

My daughters have always wanted to come to Dhaka and visit Shishu Mela (an amusement park),” explained Rahela. “So I brought them here to make this dream true.”


BRAC – the world’s largest development organisation and a global leader in creating opportunities for the poor – started as a limited relief operation in 1972, in a remote village of Bangladesh. It has since spread antipoverty solutions to 11 other developing countries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Organising the poor using communities’ own human and material resources, BRAC catalyses lasting change, creating an ecosystem in which the poor have the chance to seize control of their own lives.


BRAC does this with a holistic development approach geared toward inclusion, using tools like healthcare, education, microfinance, disaster management, environment and climate change, legal services, community empowerment and many more. Currently, more than 135 million people are being reached through BRAC staff and BRAC-trained entrepreneurs numbering in the hundreds of thousands. BRAC employs 45,918 regular staff and over 69,434 project staff. Its total expenditure was 546 Million USD in 2013.


For more info about BRAC, please see www.brac.net