Children from Belarus

Article by Will Watkinson: Two children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster have been welcomed into the home of a Billericay family for a month.

Since 1992, national charity Chernobyl Children's Life Line has organised holidays in the UK for children from Ukraine and Belarus.

These two nations were most affected by the nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986, which created radioactive fall-out that has caused untold health damage to generations of Eastern Europeans.

Matt Craig-Greene, 39, a member of the South Essex and Billericay branch of the Chernobyl Children's Life Line, is entertaining two children at his home.

[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Matt"]We had a spare room in our house so when we heard about the project we thought – why not? Now my wife and I have been hosting for five years. We try to give them experiences they can't have at home, like going to the beach, or seeing a show. Most have never been abroad and if they have been it has probably been for medical treatment. The area around Chernobyl has a high level of social deprivation. The more well-off families left after the disaster, leaving those that couldn't afford to leave.[/quote]

This year all 12 children who visited Essex came from Gomel Children's hospital in Belarus. Some have life-threatening cancers caused by radiation and all are from socially deprived areas.

Although the Gomel region is 70 miles north of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine, a lot of the radioactive dust fell there and there has been a 1,400 per cent increase in the number of children born with thyroid cancer.

An estimated 9,000 people around Gomel will die prematurely because of their exposure to radiation.

Each summer the children stay in pairs with six host families and meet every weekday during their stay, taking part in a range of activities in Essex and London.

They have so far visited Tropical Wings Zoo, Adventure Island, Barleylands, Billericay School, Plume School, Mayflower School, and enjoyed a trip to watch Lion King in London.

All their trips are paid for locally by donations and the good-will of local Rotary Clubs and Lions Clubs.

[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Matt"]They really enjoy the activities we have planned for them. They are very appreciative because they just cannot do this at home. The children go home healthier with boosted immune systems and have hopefully had the experience of a lifetime.[/quote]

But it's not only the visiting children who benefit, as Matt says. Having the children stay at his home has been rewarding for him, his wife Susan, and their two children.

[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Matt"]The host families, volunteers and sponsors have made lasting friendships with a great group of kids and have learnt about life and culture in Belarus and Ukraine. It's a true cultural exchange and I know my children really love it.[/quote]

On July 8 they visited the Marconi Sailing Club, in Steeple, and met Rear Commodore Graham Cross, who was only too happy to entertain them.

[quote width="auto" align="none" border="#0066cc" color="#0066cc" title="Quoted by Graham"]The club's young cadets did a fantastic job of entertaining the children with a warm welcome. Unfortunately strong winds meant they could not go out on sailing dinghies as planned. Instead they all laughed, as they bounced and rode the choppy waves on the club's fleet of rescue boats to visit Thirslet Spit, a seashell and sand bank only accessible at low tide. Essex's coastal landscape is so utterly different from Belarus and I'm sure they will go home refreshed, healthier and with memories to last a lifetime thanks to all those that volunteered their support. The youngsters, still excited by their adventure on the high seas, even treated the Marconi volunteers to a rendition of Belarussian folk songs as a thank you.[/quote]

For more information, to donate or if you would like to host go to www.southessexccll.org

Read original article by Will Wilkinson, Ongar Gazette

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