Chernobyl Children Find Safe Haven In B-Town

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by Cynthia Reid

“For the first time ever we have confronted in reality
the sinister power of uncontrolled nuclear energy.”
– Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev
19 days after the April 26, 1986 disaster

Everyone seems to think that summers just fly by, but for those of us who host Children from the Chernobyl area it seems to go by lightning fast.

As our time together comes to an end, we scramble to find those last minute necessities: winter boots, heavy coats and gloves as well as all those little gifts to send back home to families. Our local treats seem to be the favorites, like Almond Roca and Seattle’s Best Coffee.

The children come to the US, and stay for six weeks every summer.

This year For the Children of the World hosted over 80 children from Belarus, which is an area that was most contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster. In fact, 70% of the radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl Nuclear disaster fell on Belarus. Even 22 years after the meltdown, the children there suffer from the constant bombardment from low-level radioactivity and often live with limited employment, poor wages and rampant inflation, and it is not always possible to provide the children with adequate amounts of nutritious food.

We have found, through medical testing, that a six-week stay in a clean environment with good nutrition can completely recover a child’s immune system. Most of the children come from very small villages where much of their food is grown in the contaminated soil and the economy is very poor.  While the children are here in the US, medical and dental expenses are donated by generous medical professionals who provide their services. We fundraise as much as possible to help reduce the cost; the rest of the expense is borne by the hosting family. The average hosting cost for 2008 was $1,450 per child.

When our own host child, Akulina, came to us five years ago she knew only four words in English:

  • “Yes”
  • “No”
  • “Please”
  • “Thank you”

Except that she didn’t know what any of the words meant!

We had a great time getting to know and understand each other with our little games of charades! She had never ridden in a car, never shopped at a grocery store like our local Fred Meyer and never been to a mall. We gave her a camera so she could take photos home with her and it was fun watching her take pictures of the snack aisle, the meat case and the veggies at the grocery store! After the first six weeks her English was coming right along. Akulina and our daughter Valerie had tons of adventures learning each other’s language and sharing stories.

After her first visit, I traveled to Belarus to visit with Akulina’s Aunt and Grandmother and to experience my first trip to Eastern Europe. During that visit I met Akulina’s cousin Olga. We signed her up to come on a visit the next year and she stayed with our friends, the Whites, from Normandy Park. It’s a beautiful country and I’ve never met friendlier people anywhere in the world. At one point we stopped in a very small village to get a bite to eat. As soon as we stepped through the door of the inn, the hostess was on the phone to someone. Within minutes there were people arriving to see the strangers from America. For most of them it was their first time meeting an American. Some even brought us gifts!! Total strangers, giving us hugs and thanking us for coming to their country! Everyone fed us. And fed us. Every table was set up with more food than you can imagine, every square inch of the table covered. And the vodka!!! I’d tell you all about it but the details are fuzzy…..  However, I can tell you that 15 degrees is okay when you’re bundled up in layers but it’s darned cold when you’re in the outhouse with your backside exposed!

Here’s a video interview (produced/shot by Cynthia Reid) with Akulina’s cousin Olga, who stayed in the area this summer:

“More than 14 years after the accident which made Chernobyl a symbol of fear throughout the world, the catastrophe is far from over for the inhabitants of the region. In Belarus, in Ukraine and in the Russian Federation, it continues to have a devastating effect not only on the health of the people,
but on every aspect of society.”

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan
June 12, 2000

Over the years our organization has been lucky enough to have received excellent help from so many people – Doctors, dentists, co-workers and even rock stars have stepped up to help us out. My Chemical Romance, The Shins, Billy Talent and even Devo (who knew they were still around?) have met with us and donated signed memorabilia to raise money for For the Children of the World.

Summer 2009 will be here before we know it. We’ll have things to pick up over the winter for our host children and our translators; more heavy coats, vitamins, backpacks, etc.

If you are interested in hosting a child next summer, please contact us and let us know. We can also use help with medical and dental care, hosting fees, gathering needed items, etc. We’re always happy to answer any questions about our program!

There’s also a lot of information on our website:

Cynthia Reid is an owner/agent at John L. Scott Westwood

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