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May 21st, 2008
10:37 AM ET

Battling 'Compassion Fatigue'

A homeless Burmese boy drinks clean water at a monastery for a temporary shelter on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar.

A homeless Burmese boy drinks clean water at a monastery for a temporary shelter on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar.

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. She shares her experiences with us:

Laura Cusumano Blank
World Vision emergency communications officer
www.worldvision.org

Two weeks ago, Myanmar was the lead story in every broadcast, the cover story of every newspaper.

But that's yesterday's news.

Since Cyclone Nargis hit the coast of this tiny country in Southeast Asia, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck China and violent attacks have spread throughout South Africa. And that's just this week's headlines.

I'll be honest. There was a day earlier this week when I couldn't take another news report about Myanmar. I couldn't tell one more story about a child becoming an orphan. I couldn't watch one more clip of people running after food being thrown from a truck because they were so desperate for a handful of rice...   All I wanted to do was escape to my quiet hotel room, order room service and read the latest celeb gossip. Did you know Angelina's pregnant with twins?

Compassion fatigue happens to all of us. It certainly happened to me this week. I find myself constant struggling to balance life with one foot in the developed world and one foot in the developing world. My natural inclination is to shut down, to ignore, and to disregard the struggles that I see around the world because compared to them, my life is so easy. But I can't do that. The people of Myanmar didn't choose where to be born, and neither did I. Because of the advantage I've been given, I must give that advantage to someone else. And so can you. 2.5 million people in Myanmar need you to remember them, long after their stories have been told in the news.

How you can help…


Filed under: Aid workers • Cyclone • Myanmar • Severe Weather
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Amanda

    The reality is that tragedies like these have always been taking place, but now the media brings them home to us in such a realistic and sometimes brutal way. We do have the right and maybe even the need to be informed, but one has to wonder if we are not starting to suffer from continuous post traumatic stress as societies as a whole.

    I was in the East last week as Myanmar and the China earthquake events were unfolding with continuous media coverage in all formats and then I came back to South Africa with running battles taking place with police a few kilometers from my workplace. And what did I do? I switched of the news and played REM and U2 as loudly as possible. We have to find the means for all of us to firstly continue with our own lives and sometimes the enormity of all these events in the external environment becomes paralyzing.

    I do wish that the media would start doing more interrogation and analysis regarding causes, consequences and maybe even the meaning of these events – something to help the man in the street interpret and contextualize.

    May 22, 2008 at 9:08 am |
  2. Julie San Diego, CA

    Laura, thanks for doing the work that you do and for continuing to keep this story in the news. No one person can "fix" a disaster this large and it's completely understandable that you feel overwhelmed by a problem so big. Do what you can while you're there and know that your work is helping these people.

    What the media pays attention to is what the world will pay attention to. Enough attention will eventually translate into action.

    What frustrates me is that our leaders (including our current President and our Presidential candidates) could be seizing this opportunity to lead by talking about Burma and China and giving some "political push" to move things along.

    I'm disgusted by all this "I can win the election" talk. Show me what you can do, candidates. If McCain, Obama, or Clinton could get aid workers into Burma, I'd have some confidence that they could balance the federal budget, get us out of Iraq, and figure out a way to give health insurance to every American.

    It's a sorry state of affairs when Laura Bush is the most prominent political figure talking about this disaster. Isn't her husband supposed to be the one stepping up to the plate?

    He's still President, right?

    May 22, 2008 at 3:56 am |
  3. Melissa

    With the mismanagement of $5 billion dollars donated for Katrina, I no longer donate for these tragedies because I don't believe there is any accountability to where this money is going to help these people. I feel sorry for the people of Burma and China and I wish them luck. I'd donate my time to help if I could but never again will I give money for any charity.

    May 21, 2008 at 2:59 pm |
  4. Jolene

    Laura: You sometimes have to wonder why such devastating things happen in this world. I suppose in the end, it makes us that much stronger, yourself included. Thanks for doing what you do and keeping us informed of what's happening in Myanmar. I am still amazed by the fact that the military junta is more concerned about controlling who goes in and out of their borders than taking care of their own people which with each passing day appears to be getting worse.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    May 21, 2008 at 2:15 pm |
  5. Jan from Wood Dale IL

    This is a natural disaster that has turned into a man-made catastrophe. It is extremely frustrating to see a military regime so heartless, and a UN so ineffective.

    The world is offering aid and assistance, but two weeks after the storm an international relief effort has only managed to reach about a quarter of the affected people. Since the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been allowed to lead the task force for redistributing foreign aid in Myanmar, maybe we'll begin to see some difference.

    May 21, 2008 at 1:34 pm |
  6. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    It's true. There is so much to be done after we move onto the next disaster. I see it when I work in rural Honduras. They still talk of the after effects of Hurricane Mitch. Their poverty does not end. I see it in New Orleans and other parts of my home state. Places still are wastelands almost three years after the storms. People still live in FEMA trailers unable to afford to rebuild. People still suffer. Human services agencies are still helping those in most need. It's so easy to forget the struggle when we have it so good. You're right. Because we have it so good, we have an obligation to see that those who don't because of forces beyond themselves are helped until they recover. And for the record, sometimes we have to go back to the hotel, read mindless gossip, and forget the tragedy out there in order to keep our own minds as we help those in need to recover. When counseling Katrina survivors I became the goddess of Oprah, Vanity Fair, and chocolate Ding Dongs. It was the only thing that worked.

    May 21, 2008 at 11:43 am |
  7. Cherisa

    There were humanitarian issues in Myanmar before the cyclone hit. I hope AC360 will continue to report on the fate of these people and the injustices suffered under the current regime.

    May 21, 2008 at 11:41 am |
  8. Heather

    I haven't forgotten about Burma. The contrasts between Burma and China(of course they have the olympics coming)is like night and day. I get so fustrated watching those poor people suffer because of uneducated paranoid selffish dictators. I keep hoping that the UN will say enough is enough and send troups in to force the aid in.

    May 21, 2008 at 11:26 am |
  9. diena

    i only wish the US cared about its people durning katrina, like the chinesse government and people cared about its people.
    What an awful country china is huh?

    May 21, 2008 at 11:18 am |
  10. Michael, NC

    Laura-
    It is unsettling to hear report after report from Myanmar, and the staggering death toll that is still undetermined for sure, but it WAY to high. These events seem to get swept under the table after a few weeks, even though the struggle in Myanmar is not subsiding. Lives have been lost, and the families will not forget the losses either. They don't just need support the week after the tragedy, they need support on their loved one's birthday, holidays, and the anniversaries of the tragedy. These are troubling times for these victims too. I can only hope that World Vision can continue to get volunteers to assist in the rebuilding of homes and families in the future. I know that I have always enjoyed seeing the faces of these people when you are there volunteering to serve, and those are the images that stick with you for the rest of your life. Best of luck. 🙂

    May 21, 2008 at 10:57 am |