May 13th, 2008
11:36 AM ET

"How quickly can you get on a plane to Bangkok?"

Editor’s note: World Vision is a Christian-based humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide. Laura Cusumano Blank works for the organization. Here is how she found out she would be traveling to the region to help the victims:

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/13/art.waitingforaid2.jpg caption="Waiting to receive aid"]

Laura Cusumano Blank
World Vision emergency communications officer

Last Wednesday morning began with a 7:15 a.m. wake up call and the question – "How quickly can you get on a plane out of JFK to Bangkok?" I pulled my suitcase out of the closet, grabbed my passport, and started throwing some clothes into my bag. Jeans, boots, t-shirts, granola bars.

Within an hour, my boss called back. My ticket had been booked – with no return date – for the next flight leaving for Bangkok. I would be meeting up with a team of communications staff from around the world – Laos, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada – to help coordinate World Vision's media response to the cyclone in Myanmar.

17 hours later, I found myself in the middle of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, exhausted but eager to get started. I had traveled to Bangkok two years ago for vacation, but I never thought I would get the chance to return – and certainly not under these circumstances. Our office, on the 13th floor of a downtown high-rise, has a wall of windows that overlook the city. The sun would set and rise again before I got to sleep that first day.

In my first three days in Bangkok, I slept just 9 hours – and worked 63 hours. Tonight, I'm hoping to get at least 6 before coming back to work. The work is constant and draining – but exhilarating, too. From the moment I landed, I felt like I had been made for this job. My background as a journalist and my interest in humanitarian work had led me to World Vision, and World Vision led me to Bangkok. I know I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

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Filed under: Aid workers • Cyclone • Myanmar
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Pat M

    Laura I commend you on your Humanitarian efforts. It is special people like you, who choose to make such large sacrifices that bring hope and comfort to those in such great need. I can only imagine the devastation these people are enduring on a daily basis. And I pray that the Myanmar government will have a change of heart and allow the people like yourself and the many Organizations who are willing and ready to assist to do so.

    I know to the people of Myanmar you are looked upon as an Angel of Mercy. And I'm sure Mother Teresa and Princess Diana are smiling down upon all of of you. with pride and joy.

    May 20, 2008 at 9:25 am |
  2. Julie San Diego, CA

    Thanks for all your hard work Laura!

    Jessie, lets not bring politics OR religion into this. World Vision does some pretty amazing work. They financed the building materials for my church group to build a sturdy wood-frame house down in Tijuana for a family that was living in a shack made out of tin and salvaged junk. Because of them, we were able to construct two homes that weekend – the volunteer builders financed the second home for a second family in similar circumstances.

    If you aren't willing to pick up a hammer, get on a plane, or lend a hand in some way (even if it's only a prayer or a donation), you probably shouldn't get involved in the discussion.

    Jane, if you're ripping on Anderson, that's my job 🙂 The man's got cobwebs on his boots...he won't tell us why....very strange behavior...

    May 15, 2008 at 2:32 am |
  3. Annie Kate

    Its great to hear that some aid workers are able to be on the ground helping Myanmar now. The scope of the tragedy there is just unimaginable. Hope you stay safe and that Myanmar accepts the help you and your organization offer. Is World Vision going to do a similar effort for the victims of the earthquake in China?

    Thanks much for sharing and good luck.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    May 13, 2008 at 9:19 pm |
  4. Kisimir

    World Vision has an operations base in the eastern part of the delta in a town called Pyapon—about four hours drive from Yangon.

    May 13, 2008 at 8:18 pm |
  5. Vicky, Ontario, Canada

    Hi Laura, Good to hear from you. Gave a contribution last week to World Vision, and hoped you all might be able to get into the country because you've been there for a long time, and have workers already in the country. Wondering if you can give us any updates of what's happening in Burma, aka Myanmar. Guess we know how you respond when the phone rings at 3, or 7:15 in the morning? Was hoping you might be in Burma, but am sure you're working to prepare things while in Thailand.

    May 13, 2008 at 5:28 pm |
  6. Jane, Detroit, MI

    When are you going to air an A/C 360 story about the 7.9 earthquake in Chengdu China? Lot's of things going on over there, over 12, 000 dead and the number is still rising. And guess what, you "can" get a visa to enter China.

    May 13, 2008 at 5:26 pm |
  7. Susan


    Your passion for your job shines through in your comments. I really admire what you are trying to do under very difficult circumstances. The people of Myanmar need help. The world community is ready. I hope the government can see past the politics and accept yours and other humanitarian aid groups assistance in dealing with this horrible natural disaster.


    May 13, 2008 at 4:59 pm |
  8. Rekha Joy Raman

    Ms.Blank, I am a Hindu- will your missionary hire me as a volunteer to help?
    After our existence on this earth exists only for the moment- for the moments that we breath on this planet: for every breath we take. Period!
    I truly appreciate your work and how priveleged you are in this position that you are able to help. But I would also like you to know that there are several others like you who are ready to serve twice as much but don't have the funds of an air ticket to take them to their destinations (or much less have their tickets booked for them) where they can serve the needy. So such help often goes unrecognized and nameless.

    May 13, 2008 at 4:50 pm |
  9. jessie

    It should be noted that according to World Vision's own web site, they discriminate in their hiring process. They will not hire either paid employees nor volunteers who are not Christian for jobs that do not require spiritual counseling.

    May 13, 2008 at 2:02 pm |
  10. Amy

    Kudos! At least someone is trying to help! The UN and US have already proved their ineffectiveness. In fact, I have no idea why we even have a UN anymore! Human rights violations are RAMPANT and they stand by and do nothing! Food and aid drops should have been occurring with or without this regime's permission long, long ago. Children are dying and this delusional, backwards regime doesn't blink an eye!

    Reading today that US Admiral Keating believes the regime has no idea of the extent of the disaster is a joke. I'm sure they have done some fly overs by now. They know darn well what the devastation is there and the US dares to portray them as clueless???? Give me a break! I believe reports like this surface only to give the US further excuses not to go in "uninvited." Ridiculous and I hope most of the country sees through this junk.

    May 13, 2008 at 1:36 pm |
  11. Cindy

    What happened in Myanmar was horrendous! I hope that the government lets in way more aid and workers. They need all of the help that they can get.

    Is this person going into Myanmar or just getting supplies ready to go there? I didn't think many worker if any were allowed in.

    May 13, 2008 at 12:09 pm |
  12. Michael, NC

    its great to hear of someone rising to the challenge to get on a plane with no notice and work their butt off for the welfare of a country in need. I have so much respect for you and others doing the same around you. You are the type of person who truly makes our world a better place, and I can only hope others like myself can follow your example. Thank you. 🙂

    May 13, 2008 at 12:09 pm |

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