Why a Dhaka foundation is delivering fruit baskets in a pandemic

The Bidyanondo Foundation, previously known for its work with street children, is stepping in to support virus victims and their families. Volunteers hope to promote a "humanitarian approach" to caring for Bangladesh's ill.

Al-emrun Garjon/AP
Bidyanondo Foundation members assemble care packages for coronavirus patients in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on June 6, 2020. The Bangladeshi group, which partners with the military and about 80 other groups across the country, has sent about 1,400 fruit baskets since June 1.

When her father tested positive for COVID-19, Sumona Khanom struggled to get a bed for him at an already overwhelmed Dhaka Medical College Hospital. The family struggled, too, with a lack of money to buy food.

She was exhausted. But then, solace came in the form of a fruit basket from the Bidyanondo Foundation.

There were mangoes, litchis, oranges, apples, lemons, and other food. And there was a get-well card for her father that read, “We are here to stand by you. This [gift] is a token of love. Our heart goes to you!”

The basket was presented by volunteers working for the foundation, established in 2013 and known for its food assistance programs for street children and the poor. The group – its name means “learn for fun” – has stepped in to build awareness of COVID-19 among families of virus’ victims and the community.

Its efforts have been inspired by news reports of neglect of victims, or hostility toward them.

One family abandoned an elderly woman in a forest near their home when they suspected she was infected. In another incident, a father died being locked in his room when he returned from work with fever. The family did not take him to a hospital. Other families have refused to take bodies for burial or cremation.

The incidents have prompted Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to express her regret in a speech in Parliament.

Foundation officials said families should understand how important it is to support those battling COVID-19 when they need it the most.

“Those news reports are very shocking. We cannot believe this can happen in a society where relatives usually throng a hospital when someone becomes ill. But this pandemic is teaching us many new things and showing its teeth,” said Salman Khan Yeasin, a foundation manager.

“Actually, in this time of corona, humanity is in a sort fading away. But in this case, we are trying to set an example of humanitarian approach,” he said.

The group has distributed about 1,400 fruit baskets since it began distributing them on June 1.

Bidyanondo depends mostly on crowdfunding. It has built a partnership with the military and its agencies, and works with about 80 other groups across Bangladesh.

Mr. Yeasin said while the foundation’s primary target is to support patients and build awareness, it does not want doctors and other health workers to be forgotten.

“Many health workers are staying outside home, away from their families to provide health care,” he said. “We wanted to thank them. They also need mental support.”

So it has sent them cards. One reads: “We become brave to do more [for people] seeing your efforts, we know you will continue this fight to save our lives if we become ill tomorrow.”

Bidyanondo’s efforts have been met with gratitude. Sumona Khanom appreciated that the foundation “has come forward to help my father.”

“I hope,” she said, “they would come forward to help all other fathers.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

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