"For the Children of the World" Hosts Are Fighting Mad!
by Cynthia Reid
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Previously, Burien resident Cynthia Reid wrote a story about hosting a child from Chernobyl, which can be read here]
As a local host parent of a child from Chernobyl, Iâ€™m having a very hard time with a situation that’s unfolding in Petaluma, California.
After her ninth summer health respite trip to the United States, Tanya Kazyra refused to go home to Belarus. She was well aware of the repercussions this would have on the other 1,400 children that come to the US every year and the heartbreak it would mean to the families that host those children. She is intent on staying with her Petaluma-based host parents, the Zapatas.
But now the news is much worse. Health respite programs in both Germany and The Netherlands have now been shut down as well, leaving thousands of children without a break from the radiation of Chernobyl.
Kazyra, who will be 17 in December, has taken part in the Chernobyl Childrenâ€™s Project for the last nine years and this was her last year in the program due to her age. The project gives children from areas affected by radiation released in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster a chance to visit other countries for health respite.
â€œWe are gravely disappointed in the Zapata family,” said Ruth Williams of the Chernobyl Childrenâ€™s Project. â€œDecisions that are not in Tanyaâ€™s best interest are being made by people who are not her legal guardians.â€
Although Tanyaâ€™s visa does not expire until December, Belarusian offices said the visa had been issued only for travel with the program. They believe her refusal to return to Belarus violates the agreement made by host families with the organization.
â€œWhen (the Zapatas) go to bed at night, they should lie there and think of 1,400 children that are crying and hopingÂ they can see their American mama and their American Papa next year,â€ said Cec Calhoun, the Belarus liaison for the Children of Chernobyl United States Alliance. â€œChildren crying big tears because one family has decided to be selfish in keeping her.â€
As a host parent myself, Iâ€™m ready to fly down to Petaluma and give this family a good talking to. This self-centered child is hurting so many people itâ€™s unfathomable that she can continue to refuse to go home. I understand that her life is hard in Belarus. But life is hard for thousands of children there and she thinks her life is more important than theirs? Box her up and ship her out!
Here’s a video interview I conducted with Elizabeth Tennison, President of For the Children of the World:
Elizabeth also had this to say:
â€œOur own family has hosted six kids and two translators over the years. Last year we hosted a 16-year old boy who came for the first time.Â He comes from a poor family of eight kids, his mom is disabled and his dad drives a truck.Â Life didn’t hold much hope for him.Â Here was an opportunity not onlyÂ for him to have an amazing amount of dental work, which didn’t all get finished, but for him to begin to discover a bigger world and increased opportunity which could translate into better things for him at home.
We fell in love with this boy who, as the oldest boy in the family, could be tough and have an attitude.Â With us he was appreciative, funny, helpful and always wanting to learn. We so looked forward to having him back next year to finish his dental work, help empower him to help himself to a better future, encourage a good attitudeÂ and just enjoy the gifts that love brings.Â He, like so many of the other children, has given us more than we could ever give him. All that is in jeopardy now.”
Our family, who has made hosting these kids part of their life mission too, is left wondering whether in the long run we have made a difference and feeling hollow at the loss of these kids who are now a part of our family. The Zapata family who has kept Tanya has certainly made a difference-a negative one.Â One family has brought about a heart breaking loss to thousands of other families who just wanted to make a positive difference in the world.Â What is wrong with this picture-and that family?â€
Belarusian officials working on the case are not happy either with Tanyaâ€™s refusal to return home. They have been in continuing contact with her and her host family, but no progress towards repatriating the girl has been made. Her visitorâ€™s visa does expire on Dec 25 and it is expected that no extension will be granted by the US State Department and she will have to leave the country at that point.
Americans have been encouraged by both the US State Department and Children of Chernobyl, USA Alliance to continue with a letter writing campaign to the Zapata family and the news media stating their point of view and the consequences for them of this families action.
Letters may be addressed to your local news media: TV stations, newspaper editors, radio, etc. with copies to C of C, USA for presentation to the US State Department and to the family.
Copies to C of C, USA Alliance may be addressed to:
P.O. Box 213,
Ellensburg, WA Â 98926
For more information please go toÂ www.fortheworldschildren.org