U of T news
  • Follow U of T News

U of T students help victims of Bangladesh factory collapse

Fariha Ekra with Rozina Akter, 25, who had to sever her own arm in the collapse of the Rana Plaza (all photos by Fariha Ekra)

University of Toronto Scarborough student Fariha Ekra was born in Bangladesh and often returns for visits - but her most recent trip was a far cry from the usual joyous family reunion. 

This time, Ekra was delivering $9,000 to victims of the Savar garment factory collapse.

“I’d always wanted to start a charitable organization, but I didn’t know what issue to address,” says Ekra, who is in her third year. “When I heard about the tragedy in Savar, I knew I had to do something about it.”

Ekra and fellow U of T student, Lamees Mussa, founded Young Canadians for Global Humanity in April 2013 to raise awareness of issues and focus on disaster relief, poverty relief and health. (Read more about Young Canadians for Global Humanity.)

Although Mussa and Ekra were both working full-time at internships, they managed to raise $9,000 in just under two months by selling buttons and using social media and word-of-mouth to spread their message. It was difficult, Ekra says, but worth it.

Awareness-building was funded by money Ekra earned through her part-time job, as well as donations from family and friends. But an important part of the group's mandate is that 100 per cent of the public's donations go to the cause, says Ekra.

“The donors put money in our hands and we put the money in the hands of the victims, with no third party,” she says. “I think that really encouraged people to give.”

Paying for tickets out of their own funds, Ekra and her father travelled to the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralyzed in Bangladesh this August to deliver the money. The experience was eye-opening.

“I spoke with all 122 people in the hospital and asked about their experiences,” says Ekra. “Just hearing their stories and seeing their condition helped me understand their situation. Most were between the ages of 20 to 25 and to see someone my own age going through this was tragic.”

Ekra says that while many of the victims were receiving funding to cover their surgical costs and food, cash was scarce.

“Many were the only earners in their family and although they themselves are getting food, they can’t help their families,” she says. “The cash we provided paid for costs such as their children’s tuitions.”

A double major in public policy co-op and sociology, Ekra plans to attend law school. She also sees a long future with Young Canadians for Global Humanity. For its next project, the group is planning to send to school a dozen children who have lost a caregiver in the collapse.

“We’re hoping to provide them with the opportunity of choice, something their parents don’t have,” says Ekra. “Education may help shield them from vulnerability to situations like the factory collapse by providing the education to choose another path in life.”

While there, Ekra interviewed and filmed hospitalized workers, and the president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). She plans to use the footage to create a documentary to raise awareness and funding.

More than 1,000 people died in the 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in the Dhaka suburb of Savar, and another 2,500 injured were rescued from the building.