Belarus children enjoy their holiday

A NUMBER of youngsters affected by the Chernobyl disaster more than 20 years ago are visiting Deeside and Donside as part of an annual trip.

Two girls are currently staying with host families in Torphins and two boys are staying in Sauchen, on Donside.

A group of 10-12 young people from Belarus visits each summer on a health break/month of respite care and the children reside with local families whilst experiencing the local attractions and sights.

The Aberdeen/shire link of Aberdeen Children Life Line has arranged various events in the area for the children, including visits to Deeside Activity Park, tubing and the Grampian Transport Museum in Alford, golf at Inchmarlo, Crathes Castle, the Banchory Show and the Aboyne Games, as well as a ceilidh at Crathes Hall.

In total, eight children - four boys and four girls - and a translator arrived for the four-week stay, during which time they will meet up at least five times a week. They also undergo important dental and eye checks.

For the children lucky enough to come to the UK, it is a trip of a lifetime. It is estimated that a month staying with a family here, eating nourishing food, resting from the relentless radiation and breathing clean air can add up to two years to their life expectancy.

Several support families also look after the children part of the time.

One of the boys was due to come last year but broke his arm badly in several places and was unable to make the trip, so organisers were especially pleased he could visit this year.

Aberdeen Children Life Line fundraises throughout the year to bring children over, but as importantly as funding, they need host and support families.

The Belarussian people continue to suffer more than ever from the legacy of the world's worst nuclear disaster - the radioactive fallout was 90 times greater than Hiroshima.

Belarus was the region hit most by the disaster, with 70% of the fallout landing on its territory, and around one-fifth of its area seriously affected and approximately 90% of its area affected in some way.

By 1990, two million people, 20% of the country's forests, and well over 250,000 hectares of agricultural land had been contaminated. It is estimated that today more than two million people in Belarus still live in contaminated areas - there is no access to 'clean' food. People still till their fields, herd cattle and eat the contaminated produce of their labours.

The Chernobyl nuclear plant was closed in December 2000 and it is currently estimated that it will take up to 400 years to rid Belarus of contamination.

Leukaemia, tumours and thyroid cancers are rife amongst the children and many children are born deformed. The success rate for curing childhood leukaemia in the west is 85% - in Belarus there is a 10-15% chance.

Today, 90% of Belarussian children have been contaminated and the gene pool of Belarus is under serious threat.

It costs around 450 to bring a child to Aberdeen, which covers their air fare, visa etc. The Aberdeen Link is always looking for host families and support families for the children visiting next summer. There is a network of support for host families, who will not be on their own.

Anyone interested in hosting or supporting a child next year, or for more information, should call Lisa Brown on (01330) 844536.