Over 27 years have passed since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, but a group in the county remain committed to helping families affected by the tragedy.
The Chernobyl Children Appeal, Tyrone and Fermanagh Group has been running as a collaboration for three years and this year they have taken 23 young children from Ukraine into their homes. The three-week trip, which began on Sunday allows the children to not only to experience the beauty of the county and enjoy activities, but also extend their lives.
“Three weeks with us reduces their radiation levels by over 30% and an increase on their life span which could be anything up to six years,” explained the local chairman Eveline Smith.
Five of the 10 host families for this year visited the area around Chernobyl in November last year and discovered first hand the problems that still exist for the people.
“We visited some of the areas where the children are from and nothing has changed since the fallout. We flew into Kiev and it was like a glorified, oversized Belfast and then travelled eight and a half hours by road to the village area and it was like you had gone through a time warp.
“No running water, no toilets and they were living on the most basic of foods,” continued Eveline.
She noted the extreme poverty and unemployment that still exists in these areas, highlighted by the fact that although the people grow their own food on the land they are not allowed to sell any of their products.
This year the ten families hosting children include a family from Coa and one living on the Fermanagh/Tyrone border. Despite the high number of children who have benefited from the life-changing project, Eveline has appealed for more to put themselves forward.
“We need more families in Fermanagh. You’re giving something back by helping. At times in life you go through rough moments and when you come out of those you want to be able to do something good. We offer that opportunity and I must say the children involved are a delight and it is very hard to refuse a child.
“When we met the villagers and children we just came back with a different drive to do more. We can’t do a lot for the area they live in, but if we can bring out as many as we can we can make a difference.
“The delight on their faces and the hugs we got from them when we met them on Sunday was just priceless. They have only been with us one day and they already feel like part of the family.”
The group’s busy schedule includes a chairman’s reception in the Townhall today (Wednesday), along with visits to the Marble Arch Caves, Share Centre and the Lough Erne yacht club. The children and interpreters head home on August 11.
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