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19 April 2020 | Issue 2

Friendship teachers are in constant contact with students to check on their well-being and studies

Investing In The Future During A Crisis

We need to find ways to keep education going strong,
says Friendship Founder and ED Runa Khan

In a crisis like COVID-19, survival is our greatest challenge. Social isolation is still the first step towards curtailing the spread of the virus in Bangladesh, whilst the Government gets ready to deal with the pandemic. There is no alternative to this first step. The government and the people, all of us together need to work towards ensuring the success of this, without giving way under pressure from anyone. Together, we need to strengthen this call further.

What will happen if the number of positive cases surges? If the people needing intensive care spirals as it has in so many other countries? We are short on medical supplies, facilities, and personnel. For there are many who have taken the hypocritical oath but do not fulfill their oath, putting to shame the many who are in the frontline doing so. Today we have to understand the importance of social isolation. The one path available now, for flattening the curve.

As social isolation is implemented, thousands of families who already live on the edge, are suddenly unemployed and at risk of starvation. This is a battle which is we are already starting to fight. In a country where there are millions of day labourers, we have to weigh the deaths due to the pandemic and deaths due to starvation. It is a difficult balancing act.

Yet as the question of human survival haunts us, we also need to look into the future for ourselves and our children. For during these moments when our survival is threatened, it is easy to forget long-term problems. Unfortunately, a pandemic is not only here for the short term. Scientists have predicted that till a vaccine can be found and distributed around the world, which may take over a year— social isolation will remain a reality.

What will happen to the 10.5 million secondary students if they stay out of school for a year? We cannot afford for education to come to a standstill. We must find innovative techniques for students of all levels to continue learning from home in a way that does not hinder progress.

Friendship schools are holding awareness sessions on COVID-19 with parents and community members at a safe distance from one another

So, while Friendship continues to operate its hospitals, and works to tackle the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, our teachers are playing an equally important role. They are following up individually with students over the phone, and where necessary, setting up group studies with small numbers of students maintaining social distance outdoors. They are not letting anything stop the development of our students.

Working in areas affected by the climate crisis and migration for two decades, has prepared us for COVID-19 in unexpected ways. In most river island communities, we found that they had been so deprived of education that it was impossible to find teachers locally. We got some of the best teachers in Dhaka to record classes for teaching the national curriculum,  and these are being used by our children in the chars since 2015. Friendship  School students receiving their lessons (grade 6 to 10) through these video classes significantly outperform the national average every year.

Video lessons for secondary education are recorded at Friendship studio

Starting tomorrow, the government channel Shangshad TV will broadcast Friendship Education videos for students all over the country. Our classes are also currently featured on our dedicated Friendship Education YouTube channel which is also now linked with the government portal Kishor Batayon, a national repository of educational resources. Ten million Bangladeshi students are now confined at home. Friendship is grateful for the opportunity to enrich their education outside traditional classrooms.

The novel coronavirus has certainly proven that human values are no less critical than competence. Values like unity, generosity, commitment and honesty are part of the solution to a global problem. We cannot overcome a pandemic by thinking individualistically. For years we have had a strong focus on ethics in our school curriculum, and this component will remain prominent in the materials and we contribute nationally at this time.

When we come out of this crisis particularly our young people who are the future of our country, should come out as better human beings, having progressed academically, but equally, grown as ethical human beings.

Covid-19: Lessons to be Learnt from the Global Perspective

South Korea and the United States represent opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the response and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. After the super spreader in the second half of February, the Government drawing from their former experience with MERS 2015, started well. They established strategies and implemented them almost immediately. They shut down schools, implemented social isolation, and immediately started testing and even re-testing. Citizens were closely monitored. Only now, after almost entirely flattening their curve, has Korea relaxed its lockdown measures, but keeping in mind, that Covid-19 can restart and find its way back once again.

We must learn from what Foreign Minister Kang says: “being open with people and securing their trust is vitally important. The key to our success has been absolute transparency with the public—sharing every detail of how this virus is evolving, how it is spreading and what the government is doing about it.”

The United States, on the other hand, was hesitant to order a mass quarantine even as late as March. The curves tell their story best.

Bangladesh is seeing an exponential rise in the number of detected cases. We need to draw our conclusions and our way forward with logic, examples, possibilities and verity above all.


Friendship is proud to be able to supply masks to the jails for the convicts and for police in Kurigram and Gaibandha. The Friendship masks are made with three layers of 100% hand woven cotton, cut to a Japanese pattern, and stitched by the tailors in the villages.

Police personnel who have not yet received masks but needs to continue work in the district towns and working areas of Friendship are also being equipped with the masks.

Friendship's Response to COVID-19
  • Distribution of emergency food, masks and hygiene aid packages to 4,000 daily wage earners in Dhaka, who can now at least be fed for 2 weeks as they stay home without work. They are the most vulnerable to social distancing and shutdowns.
  • 24-hour Contact Centre attended continuously by 7 doctors, medical assistants and Mental Health and Psycho-Social Service (MHPSS) officers, will be able to serve more than 100 people each day with advice on COVID-19, psychosocial support, GBV support, primary healthcare advice, referral services, and other critical information. (Contact Centre number: +880 1880 081 111).
  • 416 doctors and medical personnel and 618 health workers are continuing to serve marginalized communities in different parts of the country through Friendship’s 4 hospitals, 18 static clinics, and health posts. Social distancing and hygiene measures have been implemented at every stage of service delivery to keep doctors, hospital staff and patients safe and protected. 1,000 PPE sets have been sent to the field, while more are continuing to be sent, as they become available.
  • Friendship lab technicians assisting the government to collect samples for COVID-19 testing in Kurigram.
  • 2,186 volunteers and employees from every sector are working to disseminate government and WHO messages about social distancing and hygiene, including in hospitals, mosques, paralegal booths, etc. Paralegals helping police ensure quarantine of foreign returnees.
  • Hygiene equipment installed in all service centres including hospitals, legal aid booths; paralegals and Friendship Community Governance Aides have been provided with protective equipment to keep them and their visitors safe during interactions.
  • Friendship is continuing schooling for its students through phone, handouts, and socially distanced group studies, but also aiding students across the country with uploaded till date 154 video classes out of the scheduled 2000, on its dedicated YouTube channel. The ICT ministry has chosen Friendship among the organisations to contribute video classes broadcast on television and on its online school, Kishor Batayon.
  • Farmers and households have been advised to utilize unused land to grow short duration crops and continue rearing livestock in order to maintain food security. Vegetable seeds have been distributed to 1,800 families.
  • 150 masks distributed to Kurigram Jail at the request of the district jailer. Washing facilities have been set up and chlorine disinfectants have also been distributed as per the need of the Jail authorities.
  • Locally in Kurigram and Gaibandha over 3,000 washable masks are being distributed to the police. 
  • Rohingya Volunteers and Burmese language teachers of temporary learning centers have visited over 600 households to disseminate WHO and government messages on social distancing and hygiene.

* Tax benefits arising from donations to Friendship are subject to national tax laws.


Ka-14/2A, Baridhara North Road (Kalachandpur), Dhaka

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