The Coast News Group
Debra Thomas participates in a tour of a slum in Kuhlna, Bangladesh. Photo by Laura Reinhardt
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Local cancer survivor provides in-depth look at child labor in Bangladesh

DEL MAR — Local resident Debra Thomas spent most of November touring Bangladesh, seeing firsthand the communities affected by child labor in the country.

In her capacity as a senior area director for World Vision, an international humanitarian organization, Thomas helps to give the organization’s donors a real-world look at the efforts at hand.

Thomas accompanied donors to various slums in the cities of Dhaka, Jessore and Khulna. The organization has installed “safe spaces” in these communities, providing health services, education and clean water to children.

Debra Thomas sits in on a class for young children organized by World Vision, in Jessore, Bangladesh. The class provides supervision and enrichment to 3-5 year olds while their parents are working. Photo by Laura Reinhardt

To Thomas, participating in these trips allows her to identify and represent “what strikes the heart of the donor,” showing them the impact their contributions can create.

Thomas’s dedication to World Vision intensified this past year, after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2017. Less than a week before leaving for Bangladesh, she received her 20th and final session of radiation therapy.

Thomas, who was treated at the Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center, worked with her doctors to “make sure the diagnosis didn’t get in the way,” she said.

“I felt very strongly … I had some things in front of me that I needed to do,” she said, in regard to her work with World Vision.

Thomas is now cancer-free, and ready to continue engaging with donors and advocating for the organization.

“This just made me more determined to really do a good job getting the word out about this type of work,” she said.

Thomas is among a handful of other full-time World Vision representatives in Southern California tasked with finding individuals who have the desire and resources to contribute to the organization’s far-reaching mission.

For Thomas, this involves building relationships with donors. She works with everyone from child sponsors, who contribute a monthly dollar amount to support a specific child, to those making five-figure contributions to the organization.

She has now been with World Vision for over three years, after spending the majority of her career in banking and financial services, and otherwise dedicating her time to being a single mom.

“I truly think everything I’ve ever done has come into play with this,” said Thomas, who has lived in Del Mar for about 30 years.

After having traveled to Ethiopia and Tanzania in 2016, and Honduras in 2017, Thomas shifted her focus this year onto child labor-related efforts in Bangladesh. This involved facilitating an “eye-opening” experience for donors, traveling with them to markets and facilities where young children work on a daily basis, and meeting various families who rely on child labor to survive.

“What we’re doing is to really be with people, to understand their reality and challenges and really encourage them in their efforts to make life better,” she said.