Could your family host a little visitor this summer? This July, a group of children, aged between nine and 13, will arrive in Sheffield from Belarus.
They will visit local attractions, enjoy day trips to the seaside, eat at local restaurants and go for check-ups at the opticians and dentist.
This four-week visit is one of a series of UK recuperation breaks that take place every single year all across the country, to give children from Belarus a break from the ongoing after-effects of the country’s famous radioactive explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986.
“In the last eight years, my wife and I have looked after nine children from Belarus,” said Ben Dean, chair of the Sheffield branch of the Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline Charity.
“Host families from all across the region come together and take the kids to visit the Abbeydale Miniature Steam Trains, to local wildlife parks and play centres.
“We take them to eat at McDonalds, something they’ll have never tried before, to try archery at Sherwood Forest and throw parties for them with lots of games.
“One of those days, we’ll take them to the seaside, knowing they’ve never seen the sea before, as the nearest one to them is 18 hours away and is currently occupied by Russia.
“And we take them for check-ups, for their teeth and eyes – things they won’t have access to at home. We cram as much as we can in for them.”
In 1986, at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the former Soviet Union, a routine safety test on reactor number four resulted in the reactor exploding, blasting eight tonnes of highly radioactive fuel into the night sky.
High levels of radioactive pollution were spread across Ukraine and much of nearby Belarus, which took 70 per cent of the fallout from the power plant. Many Belarusian children still live in difficult circumstances, there is a high rate of poverty, high unemployment and low salaries as well as continued anxiety regarding the after-effects of the radioactive explosion, with figures for cancer in children significantly higher in the worst affected areas.
A Greenpeace report released last March stated: ‘People living in the affected areas in the region are still coming in daily contact with dangerously high levels of radiation. Thousands of children, even those born 30 years after Chernobyl, still have to drink radioactively contaminated milk on a daily basis.’
Ben, aged 40, of Richmond, said: “The children’s visits to the UK help clean their bodies of the radiation and gives their immune systems a much-needed boost.
“As well as the health benefits, many of them have never travelled before, so their trips to the UK are an eye opener.
“These children come from a very poor area. They don’t go on holiday, they live in a very closed-in country.
“These trips raise their expectations of life; so they can think ‘if I do well at school, if I work hard and learn all I can, there’s a big world out there for me.’
“My wife and I have kept in touch especially with one family, of a little girl who came to stay with us, and we now Skype every month.
“We actually even went to visit them for a week and it’s really amazing to see it for yourself. The radiation there is very low now, so it won’t affect us on a week-long trip, but everything these people eat, drink, swim in, wash their clothes in every day of their lives, is contaminated. Even the milk they drink, from the cows eating the contaminated grass.”
Now the Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline Charity is appealing for more Sheffield families who would be willing to host children from Chernobyl for a holiday this summer.
“The children brought to Sheffield will be able to participate in a month of activities, organised by the charity, which raises money all year round for this purpose. We need host families, but also support families,” said Ben, who chose to become a host himself after working at a restaurant for many years that invited children to come and eat for free on their visits.
“Support families help care for the children in the day, and accompany host families on trips and activities so there are always plenty of hands on deck.
“Likewise, if there are any attractions, or restaurants in the region that would be happy to welcome the children while they’re here, providing free meals or activities, or anyone wants to donate clothing, any help is much appreciated.
“This is not just about providing much-needed recuperation, it’s about showing people that we care. These children and their families are so appreciative of all we do for them, we just want to be able to do more.”
Email email@example.com if you would like more information, or to find out about becoming a host family.