A year after Rana Plaza: a first aid volunteer story

Publié: 24 avril 2014 9:11 CET

 By Himadri Ahsan

The 24th April 2014 marks the one year anniversary of the tragic Rana Plaza collapse near Dhaka, Bangladesh – one of the deadliest man-made disasters encountered in the history of the country, which killed over 1,100 people and injured over 2,500. With more than 180 youth volunteers Bangladesh Red Crescent was at the forefront for search and rescue efforts, evacuation, relief, first aid and dead body management services round the clock for 24 days till emergency operation was declared closed.


On the morning of Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 20-year old Tasmina was a busy first-aider at the largest domestic multi-sport tournament in Bangladesh. The next day at the tournament was equally eventful, highlighted by a protest and vandalism. But the first-aid team had to do without Tasmina, because she was at a sprawling cricket ground in a high school, zipping up in body bags the fallen of the country’s worst industrial disaster. “At first they didn’t want to let me in, saying I’m a girl and will get scared by what I’ll see. I was one of the very few girls who entered the site.”

One too many dead bodies later the first-aider in Tasmina wanted to save at least one life. So she walked toward the piles of shattered concrete, dizzy from the mixed smell of blood, flesh and air freshener. She didn’t have to wait for long. In the mountain of concrete and rubbles, Tasmina found Fulbanu – a 16-year old garment worker trapped under a table enclosed by a massive concrete beam.

When a fire-service ladder arrived at Tasmina’s request, she turned a deaf ear to her team leader, and climbed up until she reached closer to Fulbanu. “I took my helmet off because it wouldn’t let my head get through the window so Fulbanu could see me. She was so young and her voice shook with fear, and I just wanted to comfort her.” That was when Tasmina felt the building shift, and the mass of the collapsed building sank 2.5 inches further down. “I got back to my senses then. As a first aider I know how important my own safety is, but I’ve never been in such a heart-breaking situation before.” In the following hours Tasmina incessantly spoke to Fulbanu to keep her distracted in the stifling heat until an oxygen mask arrived to help Fulbanu breath in life. A few hours later, Bangladesh Red Crescent’s rescue team got Fulbanu out of the hellhole.

“I felt much stronger after knowing Fulbanu will live, but there were many moments when I felt hopeless and broke down, especially when families would tell me that they can’t find their loved ones. One mother fainted after telling me her daughter was missing. I don’t know how I gathered so much strength, but I picked her up and brought her to the first aid team.”

As soul-jarring as it was, Tasmina didn’t stop serving in her role in dead body management. She came to know and cared for the dead in a way she never could have imagined. “Most of the volunteers were not trained to handle a disaster of such magnitude. After Rana Plaza, I didn’t wait and went to Bangladesh Fire Service to get a basic training. I’ve learned to use equipment to cut trees and concrete. God forbid, if something like this happens again, I would want to be a part of the search-and-rescue team.”

It took time for Tasmina to get back to a normal life. For many nights that followed the Rana Plaza incident, she was scared to go to the bathroom alone. For many days the smell of soil wet from the rain or air fresheners would instantly bring back memories of the cricket field where she waited for bodies to arrive in shuttles.

Reminiscing those days a year after, under a bright sun at the front porch of Red Crescent headquarters, Tasmina smiled at me contentedly, “I’m grateful to Allah for the experience though. Incidents such as this help you to grow stronger and a more compassionate human being. I’m more committed to volunteering today than I was on the day I signed up with Red Crescent in a trade fair.”

Tasmina Akter is a Red Crescent Youth volunteer, and part of Bangladesh Red Crescent’s 0.5 million volunteer-base which serves vulnerable people with search-and-rescue services, first aid, emergency relief operations, blood drives, restoring family links, early warning of natural disasters, awareness on health and safe water and sanitation, and community based development initiatives. Learn more at bdrcs.org.