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Mon May 6, 2013, 09:38 AM

Last Hope in Ruins: Bangladesh’s Race to Save Shaheena

By JIM YARDLEY
Published: May 5, 2013

SAVAR, Bangladesh — The rescuers discovered her by a faint, distant sound. They had spent four days crawling through the wreckage of Rana Plaza, tons of concrete and steel pressing down, saving hundreds of people. Now only the dead remained. Except for a lone woman, a garment worker. She was trapped behind a fallen pillar, in a suffocating crevice maybe two feet high. First, the rescuers could see only her fingertips pressing through a tiny opening. After hours spent chipping a small hole, they could see her face. Her name was Shaheena. She was 32. She begged to see her young son.

The story of Shaheena, involving a heroic if ultimately doomed rescue operation, offered the last bit of hope of finding anyone alive in what is now considered the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry. For hours on April 28, as television reporters broadcast updates, rescuing Shaheena became a national priority. She would be trapped for more than 100 hours.

Her plight attracted so much attention because of the horror of the building collapse, with a death toll that by Sunday had exceeded 600; the drama of the long rescue effort; and the human desire to find a sliver of redemption in the tragedy. But the attention was also an anomaly: there are easily more than 2.5 million women working in the garment industry in Bangladesh whose lives usually attract scant notice, even though they are the workhorses of the national economy.

For women like Shaheena, the garment industry has been a source of empowerment as well as exploitation. Before, few rural women worked outside the fields in Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation. Many, like Shaheena, are still not given a surname at birth. Now the industry has given many women a first step out of rural distress, with some becoming outspoken labor leaders or managers in their factories.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/06/world/asia/struggle-in-bangladesh-to-save-collapse-survivor.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0

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