Back in 1986 when I was aged just 15 an event took place in the former USSR that I never know would have such a profound personal and emotional effect on me. I’m talking about the catastrophic explosion of reactor 3 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power station. The event was the result of an ill-fated experiment that resulted in radioactive fallout reaching an area far and wide and across many countries. At its peak the radioactive fallout was 100 times greater than that caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima & Nagasaki combined. It was a disaster caused by human error and poor design that had a cataclysmic effect on the lives of many and still does to this very day.
This radioactive contamination reached many countries but the bulk of it was concentrated in Belarus & Ukraine regions. The local town of Pripiyat with a population of 40,000+ was evacuated within hours of the event but the communities further afield were not and to this day they live with the Chernobyl legacy and the continuing radioactive contamination. This contamination poses many health risks and the young and infirm are especially vulnerable to its effects.Since 1992 a charity called the Chernobyl Children’s Life Line has acted to help these young children by bringing them from the affected area for a short break away from the contamination. This short break allows them to eat fresh food and breathe clean air, this simple process alone gives a massive boost to their immune system, it can also effectively increase their life expectancy by up to two years.
This year my wife Samantha saw an advert in the Primary Times magazine asking for volunteer families to host one or two children for a 4 week period. After a short discussion we decided to put ourselves forward and become a host family for a child this summer. We embarked on a journey that would be somewhat life changing and very humbling..
After the necessary paperwork such as CRB checks we attended the local “link” meetings. The charity is divided into “links” which have a certain catchment area and build links with certain areas, towns & schools in Belarus and Ukraine. We got to know the other host families and found that there was a good mix of “first-times” and those who had hosted children for many years. Everyone had some questions so it was nice to have these answered with the wealth of experience within the group.
The excitement, anticipation and to some degree trepidation grew as the date neared for the children’s arrival. A few weeks before we received a profile of our visiting child, this gave us a little background information about them and their family. It also gave us the opportunity to write to their parents and introduce ourselves. It’s very difficult to imagine how they felt sending their child away to a foreign country to live with a family who they’d never met for a whole month, could you do it with your own child?? Probably not.
So, the day arrived and all our foreign visitors appeared off the coach, all looking a little timid and nervous, and also very tired as this was probably the longest journey they some of them have made. The group posed for a quick photograph then it was into another room to meet all the host families. As we were all introduced to our visitors there was an amazing atmosphere in the room, a sort of mix of excitement and nervousness. We’d all been learning a few Russian & Ukrainian phrases, as had the other families but we soon found out we needed lots more practice and like a Mexican wave we all dug out the iphones in search for our best friend Google and it’s amazing translation app. From that point on the language barrier had been breached and there were many smiles and laughter.
Their stay here was a full on adventure with days out far and wide, with a few rest days mixed in for out recuperative benefit, lol. Below are some images from our various days out and I think we can safely say that everyone had an amazing time and experience. There were so many highlights and the whole experience is one that will stay with me and my family forever but one highlight for me was sitting during our evening meals teaching each other a new language, there was so much laughter and humour that the language barrier seemed non-existent at times. As a family we have laughed, cried and learned a great deal and the whole experience has brought home just how selfish and materialistic our society has become. Our young proved to be a fine stalwart for his culture, upbringing and his family – he was also an amazing teacher of Russian & Ukrainian although I do need a lot more practice, lol.
A massive amount of thanks must go to everyone involved in running the charity, these visits would be impossible without their dedication and hard work. I would also like to thank all the other host families and visiting children for the most amazing and profoundly poignant few weeks. We gave a small amount of our time in exchange for a massive life experience, for us and our new found friends. It was a huge privilege being able to record their visit photographically for the charity link. We ensured each child went home with a copy of the images for them to treasure.
So, if you are a family who can dedicate a little time, would like a life changing experience and would like to consider hosting a child then please check out the charities website for further details.