Visiting Belarus is 'a humbling experience'

June 30 2017

The legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 makes for grim reading. Incidents of birth defects, cancers and other radiation exposure-induced diseases exist decades later. Hanham and Longwell Green Voice reports on how a Bristol charity is doing all it can to help children living in the shadow of the world's worst nuclear catastrophe

The legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 makes for grim reading. Incidents of birth defects, cancers and other radiation exposure-induced diseases exist decades later. Hanham and Longwell Green Voice reports on how a Bristol charity is doing all it can to help children living in the shadow of the world's worst nuclear catastrophe

 

A SMALL group from the Bristol Link of Chernobyl Children's Life Line travelled to Belarus in May to visit families and schools being supported by the charity. Three of the group were travelling for the first time to the eastern European country; James Hyden, Bob Perkins and Charlie Walker. They joined Andy March (Bristol Link chair), Andy Smith, and Jane and Alan Elkan on the self-funded trip.

Formed in 1992, CCLL exists to provide financial support and respite breaks for children whose lives continue to be affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Each summer, the Bristol link brings 16 children (aged around 11) from the town of Osipovichi and the nearby village of Protasevichi for a four-week trip to the UK.

Charlie said: “I was not sure what to expect, I’ve travelled in Russia before and thought I knew some of the different living conditions the families might face. 

"I soon realised that many families live in desperate poverty, but make the best of everything they have. In very rural areas peasant life is usual, where children and the whole family farm their plot to survive. Outside toilets and a shed bathhouse are a reality. A single central heated oven is all that keeps a family warm in the winter where temperatures can drop to minus 30 degrees. It was easy to see why the parents are so thankful for this opportunity their child has to receive an immune boosting holiday and free health check-ups."

James said: "We were amazed by the generosity and warm welcome awaiting us in every home. Belarusian specialities of draniki (potato pancakes), sausages and birch sap were prepared for us on every visit, along with cakes, biscuits and desserts. I was overwhelmed by the hospitality. Such generosity is a sign of the families’ genuine appreciation of everything that CCLL has provided for their children, and indeed the impact on their community.

"Visiting the homes of the two girls that my family hosted in July 2016 was humbling. I thought I had understood what this charity is all about, but suddenly it became even more important that my family and I are involved with CCLL."

Many children live in houses similar to the ones pictured. Children play and learn just as they can in the UK, but here their health and economic prospects are among the lowest in the world.

Bob said: "One little boy was not at home when we went to visit his family. He is 11 years old and was in hospital in Mogilev for thyroid tests. This is a familiar story for many children whose immune systems are even more vulnerable at this age. I was filled with love for this wonderful family that I could finally meet after hosting their son last summer. It was a special time of bonding and laughter as we were able to communicate via our wonderful interpreter, Valentina."

The visiting party was able to take a vast amount of children's clothing, coats, hats etc due to the extra baggage allowance for the charity. A day was arranged at Protasevichi village school where the group joined in with sports day. The schools were also presented with play parachutes and a variety of sports equipment, kindly donated by Sidcot School and others. It was good to see the children laughing and playing together.

A four-week trip to the UK can mean an additional two years’ life expectancy for the children who are lucky enough to visit. However, as Charlie points out: "We saw an even greater impact than this when we went to School Number 3 in the town of Osipovichi and met the children from last year's visit to the UK. We were delighted to realise how much their English skills had improved in just a few months. These children are inspired to achieve, and by receiving the amazing gift of a month’s respite break, these children are given a hope for their future.”

There are opportunities to help Chernobyl Children's Life Line continue its work. If you are interested in becoming a host family in 2018; would like to be involved in fundraising; or would like  a presentation at  your school, group, or workplace a presentation please contact chair.bristol@ccll.org.uk or visit www.ccll.org.uk/bristol