Updated: Aug 23, 2019
It is 33 years since the disaster happened; many people have forgotten the event or mistakenly believe the health problems caused by the radioactive fallout must surely now be over the worst? Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. Radiation is still very much present in the soil of much of Belarus and northern Ukraine and will be for generations to come.
The recent drama series on TV "Chernobyl" has brought the nation's attention to the nuclear accident. Some of the radioactive isotopes released into the environment over a period of 10 days from the destroyed reactor will be harmful to humans for thousands of years to come.
For the second year in a row, Mount Cook Adventure Centre has been lucky enough to host a group of children who are visiting the UK through the good work of the Chernobyl Children's Lifeline (CCLL). The Bonsall & Derbyshire Dales Link of the national charity has been involved in this work for the last 16 years. The charity are now bringing second generation children to the UK. These children are eating contaminated food grown in their gardens every day as most families can't afford to buy 'clean food' from shops. This year the Link invited six children from the Belarusian town of Rogachev in the Gomel Region that was and still is badly impacted by the disaster.
During their time in the UK the children are put into pairs to be hosted by volunteer families who look after them for a period of 2 weeks, before passing on to a second host family for the remaining two weeks. They adopt the children into their daily lives, as well as taking them on a whole host of planned trips and a programme of activities that has been drawn up throughout the year in preparation for the 4-week visit. These are typically activities that the children will never have had the chance to try, or experiences that will be their first, such as going to the seaside.
The 4-week holiday in the UK makes a big difference to the children's health as it reduces the level of radiation in their bloodstreams by around 70%. It also gives their immune systems, damaged by radiation, the opportunity to make a significant recovery. These health benefits last for at least 2 years.
This year, for the second time, the children took part in a full day of outdoor activities at the Centre. Thirty five children from Belarus and Ukraine came together at the Centre with their leaders and some of their host families too. The children were also joined on some of the activities by some young people also staying at the Centre with the National Citizens Service (NCS) from the North East. Together, they had the opportunity to try a whole range of exciting activities such as High Ropes, the Rooftop Rider Zip Wire, Archery Tag and Bush Craft.
This was also the first time that NCS participants have had the opportunity to work alongside a group as part of their residential experience. With the help of the translators that had traveled with the children, the young participants learned more about the Chernobyl disaster and how that has affected this generation. They were then able to assist on kitting the children up for their activities, describing and delivering activities alongside our Mount Cook instructors, then participating in the activities with them to increase enjoyment for all.
Chris Broome, the Chair of the Bonsall & Derbyshire Dales and CCLL Link Mentor for the East Midlands is quoted as saying "We are massively grateful to Mount Cook Adventure Centre and to Outdoors for All for all their support in giving all our children such a memorable day out. The instructors in particular were all brilliant with the children. Representatives from each of the Links present all spoke to me during the day to say how much they and their children had enjoyed the day and expressing their support for repeating the experience again next year. All the activities were great fun and quite challenging in some cases. I could see all the children really engaging in all the activities with big wide smiles on their faces. The day ended with everyone taking part in a 'round the camp fire' social toasting marsh mellows over an open fire. It would be great to think that this event could become an annual event"
About 800 children are invited over each year by around sixty five CCLL Links from Belarus and Ukraine, the countries that were and still are worst affected by the disaster, for health recuperation. There are three Links in Derbyshire covering the county as well as nearby CCLL Links based in Nottingham, Mansfield, Newark, and Sheffield. In recent years the number of children the charity invited each year has reduced and this is mostly because the number of host families the charity is able to recruit has reduced significantly.
How to get involved
Hosting Chernobyl children is very rewarding, knowing that you are helping make a life changing difference to the children you host. Charities like CCLL can only continue to do this with the support of volunteer host families. Each year, they appeal for volunteer families to contact their local Link. Previous experience of hosting children is not necessary. Retired couples can host, not just families with or without their own children. To safeguard the children, DBS checks are carried out by the charity on all adult family members (over 16s) who will come into contact with the children.
With thanks to the charity Outdoors for All for their financial support - https://outdoorsforall.org.uk/