by Marc Elvinger, Chairman Friendship Luxembourg

Chères amies, chers amis,
Dear Friends of Friendship (English translation below)

Inutile de vous dire que les deux événements d’exception auxquels nous vous avions conviés pour ces 24 et 25 mars – ouverture, au LUCA, de l’exposition Faraway So Close de notre architecte Kashef Chowdhury et récital de Sarod de Rajrupa Chowdhury – n’auront pas lieu comme prévu, balayés qu’ils ont été par une pandémie telle que nul d’entre nous ne l’a jamais vécue !  Si même nous devons nous préparer mentalement à un confinement de longue durée, j’espère que ces événements finiront par nous réunir avant trop longtemps: bien sûr à cause des manifestations elles-mêmes mais aussi – et avant tout – parce que ce sera le signe patent d’un retour à la normale, en espérant que nous aurons évité le pire.

En attendant, Friendship s’adapte. Pour nos entités européennes, le télétravail s’impose avec évidence depuis une semaine et ne pose pas de problèmes majeurs. Notre boutique dans la Grand-Rue est fermée par la force des choses et puisque nous n’encourons pratiquement pas de charges y relativement, cela ne nous porte guère préjudice.

Au Bangladesh, le défi est d’une toute autre nature et ampleur, en se présentant actuellement sous forme d’un spectre menaçant plus que d’une catastrophe sanitaire d’ores et déjà avérée. Au moment où je vous écris, seul 25 cas y sont officiellement déclarés ainsi que deux décès. Mais pour qui a observé l’évolution des chiffres chez nous, imagine facilement ce que cela signifie quand le nombre officiel des contaminés passe de 0 à 2, puis de 2 à 5, puis de 5 à 10 et ainsi de suite. Et pour qui a comparé les chiffres officiels de l’Allemagne avec ceux de l’Italie, sait que le rapport entre le nombre effectif des contaminés et leur nombre officiel est d’abord fonction de l’approche au niveau des tests de dépistage… Quand l’Italie ne sait pas, sauf quand il s’agit du nombre de ses morts, comment le Bangladesh saurait-il ?

Mais avant tout, quand on voit à quel point notre système et infrastructure de santé sont mis à l’épreuve ces jours-ci, avec la peur que les lits d’hôpital et les machines respiratoires viennent à manquer, on ne veut pas même penser à ce qui pourra arriver au Bangladesh avec une population de plus de 160 millions d’habitants et l’infrastructure sanitaire que nous nous lui connaissons ! Sans même parler des camps Rohingya où, depuis bien avant la crise du Coronavirus, le confinement au sein d’un espace des plus réduits est le sort commun de près d’un million de personnes !

Dans le courriel reproduit ci-dessous, adressé aux partenaires de Friendship, Runa Khan fait le point sur les mesures prises par Friendship Bangladesh pour faire face et être prêt, autant que faire se peut, pour parer au pire, ceci autour de trois axes dont les deux premiers ont été mis en œuvre dès le courant de la semaine passée tandis que le troisième est en pleine préparation : (i) protéger les équipes afin de préserver au mieux leur santé et celle de leurs proches et éviter de contribuer à la propagation de l’épidémie (ii)  assurer la continuité  des opérations et des services, tout en y apportant les aménagements nécessaires pour éviter, autant que faire se peut, de devenir un facteur de propagation du virus, (iii) intervenir activement au travers de notre réseau pour augmenter le niveau de conscience du danger et de connaissance des comportements requis pour l’endiguer dans toute la mesure du possible.

Nous continuerons de vous tenir informés de notre situation et de nos actions. En fonction de l’évolution de la situation, nous pourrons avoir besoin d’appui supplémentaire, auquel cas nous vous le ferons savoir.

Pour le moment, nous ne pouvons vous demander que deux choses : prenez soin de vous et de votre entourage et priez – chacun à sa manière – pour nos gens au Bangladesh.

Marc Elvinger
Président Friendship Luxembourg


Dear Friends of Friendship,

Needless to say,  the two exceptional events to which we had invited you for March 24th and 25th – the opening of the Faraway So Close exhibition by our architect Kashef Chowdhury and the Sarod recital by Rajrupa Chowdhury – will not take place as planned, swept away as they are by a pandemic such as none of us have ever experienced!  Though we have to prepare ourselves mentally for long-term confinement, I hope that these events will eventually bring us together before too long: of course because of the planned events themselves, but also – and above all – because it will be a clear sign of a return to normality, after hopefully having avoided the worst.

In the meantime, Friendship is adapting. For our European entities, remote working has been an obvious choice for a week now and does not pose any major problems. Our shop in the Grand-Rue is closed by force of circumstance, and since we have practically no related costs, this does not pose any real problem for us.

In Bangladesh, the challenge is of a completely different nature and magnitude, currently presenting itself as a threatening spectre rather than an already proven public health disaster. As of today, only 25 confirmed cases and 2 deaths have been officially reported in Bangladesh. But having observed the evolution of the statistics in our own countries, we can imagine what it means when the official number of infected people goes from 0 to 2, then from 2 to 5, then from 5 to 10 and so on. And anyone who has compared the official figures for Germany with those for Italy knows that the ratio between the actual number of people infected and the official number depends first and foremost on the approach taken in terms of screening tests … If Italy doesn’t know its real figures, except by measuring the number of deaths, how should Bangladesh?

Above all however, when we see how our health system and infrastructure are now being put to the test, with the fear that there will not be enough hospital beds or respirators we don’t even want to imagine what will happen in Bangladesh with its population of more than 160 million people and a health infrastructure as we know it. Not to mention the Rohingya camps where, since well before the Coronavirus crisis, confinement in a very small space is the common fate of nearly one million people!

In the  email below for the attention of Friendship’s partners, Runa Khan gives an update on the measures taken by Friendship Bangladesh to cope with the crisis, under the following three main headings, the first two of which have already been implemented last week while the third is in full preparation: (i) as far as possible to protect our teams in order to maintain their good health and that of their loved ones, and to prevent us from contributing to spreading the epidemic; (ii) ensuring the continuity of our operations and services, while making the necessary adjustments to avoid, again as far as possible, becoming a factor in the spreading of the virus; (iii) intervening actively through our network to increase the level of awareness of the danger and behavioural change  required to contain it.

We shall continue to keep you informed of our situation and our actions. As these evolve, the need for further support may arise, in which case we shall let you know.

For now, we can only ask you to do two things: take care of yourself and those around you and pray for our people in Bangladesh – each in his or her own way.

Marc Elvinger
Chairman Friendship Luxembourg


From: Runa Khan
Sent: samedi 21 mars 2020 11:27
To: Marc Elvinger (…); William Lebedel (…); Esmeralda de Rethy (…); Dorothee Ter Kulve (…); Kenneth Hay (…)   
Subject: COVID-19: message to partners from Friendship

Dear Friendship Chairs,

With a history of working for the most climate impacted people over the last 18 years, we are no strangers to emergency. Our values in dealing with crises have always been about dignity, solidarity and action.

This is a challenging time for the whole world, with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic capturing our minds globally. I would like to share with you the measures Friendship has taken within the organization and in carrying out its work in Bangladesh. The Friendship International offices are also following very restrictive protocols.  As a first step we have focused on our main responsibilities:

Our communities and services.

Friendship has 37 offices all over the country that are providing essential healthcare and legal aid services, alongside other services, to the remotest people. We cannot close these facilities as there are many people who depend on these every day. We have taken additional pre-caution keeping minimum staff members and maintaining WHO protocols for this current context.

Our team established contact with IEDCR (the government institution coordinating Bangladesh’s response to COVID-19), in the beginning of this month, before the first cases were announced and reached an understanding of coordination and response in case of any emergency in Friendship’s working areas.

We have not stopped the basic work of our field activities, but we have curtailed all group-based sessions in line with the policy of social isolation.

For the communities that we work with, who are away from all mainstream awareness and programs, we are having only very small working groups when and only if needed, limiting our access to them and having much less interaction with them. We hope we will be soon able to spread Covid-19 related awareness programs amongst them extensively. We are however, doing basic awareness already to all we are in contact, be they community or patients.

Our Staff.

Our staff is our front line, our strength and our first responsibility. We care for them and we need to take care of each of them.

We are introducing essential hygiene practices and protective measures to all our staff through awareness, communication, gears (aprons, gloves, masks, protection glasses etc) and facility installations.

We have put a halt to all incoming international visitors and have limited domestic project visits till the end of March for now. These measures are of course extendable.

We have curtailed the staff use of public transport – and are introducing alternative transport services for those coming to the office.

Staff attendance has been put on a rotational basis – with most staff working from home and only essential staff in the office, that also by rotation. We have introduced point person and hotline consisting members from our Health team for immediate assistance for our staff members.  Additionally, staff whose job nature allows them to work online are encouraged to work from home. Staff over 60 years of age are encouraged to work from home and not to come to the office, unless there is an emergency.

We are very strictly following The WHO protocols we are applying in all our offices across the country. These have been given to all our offices and our Regional Coordinators in each of our 37 offices and stations are in charge of ensuring that these messages reach all our staff. 

We are committed to our community and our colleagues and to putting their safety above everything else. We are also exploring collaborations that aid in building the best possible preparedness for the people.

We are now working on Step 2 – those measures we can take, with our limited resources, for our communities and our patients in our health and project areas deeply to make them understand the importance of social isolation and responsibility. They must do everything to not contract the disease and equally important is the responsibility to NOT be a carrier and infect those who are less fortunate than them in age or health.

We shall get back to you with further details on this next step. Please feel free to share with us any advice or any inputs you or our doctors may have for us.

Seeing this amazing uncontrollable scale of the spread of this disease, is like being caught in a natural disaster at point ZERO. Having all the power of the modern world, we are still so powerless! The coronavirus sees no national borders or nationalities – this crisis demonstrates clearly how important it is to work together internationally and in solidarity, to be able to deal with global issues such as climate change or the coronavirus. 

Thank you for your continuous support and for your trust. Wishing for a more equitable world and a world of Global Solidarity.

And above all today – May you and your loved ones all be safe.

With Kind Regards

Runa Khan
Founder & Executive Director 
FRIENDSHIP BANGLADESH