April 28, 2011: The 25th anniversary of the nuclear power plant explosion at Chernobyl, in Ukraine, comes at an especially poignant time, as Japan is in the throes of dealing with its own nuclear plant meltdown.
SOS children building a puzzle at SOS Belarus. Photo by Benno Neeleman
On April 26, 1986, radioactive matter from the number four reactor at Chernobyl erupted, traveling 80,000 square miles across Europe. Chernobyl released a hundred times more radiation than the atom bombs dropped during World War II on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
In areas in and around Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, tens of thousands of residents were forced from their homes. Many have never returned. An estimated 70 percent of the noxious air landed on nearby Belarus, poisoning one-fifth of that nation’s cropland and affecting more than 2.2 million of its 10.4 million people. Half a million of those who suffered from the fallout were children.
SOS Children’s Villages entered Belarus expressly to help families cope with this terrible disaster. In 1996, SOS initiated its operations in Belarus by opening an SOS Children’s Village in Borovljany, 12 miles northeast of the capital Minsk. From the get-go, SOS Borovljany and its adjoining SOS Social Center catered to children from all over Belarus in need of medical assistance following the nuclear disaster.
A Lifeline for Children in Cancer Treatment
Lesha, 23, discussing his battle with Leukemia at SOS Belarus. Photo by Benno Neeleman
Proof does not exist for a direct link between the Chernobyl nuclear leak and the high rate of cancer among affected families, though patients receiving care for their disease blame the nuclear accident. In some cases, multiple generations of the same family have contracted cancer.
The SOS Social Center near Minsk provides a unique service: Every year the facility hosts 250 children and their families, free of charge, while the children undergo lengthy cancer therapy at the nearby Center of Child Oncology and Hematology. The families, who stay in three houses on the grounds of SOS Borovjlany, come from regions most affected by radiation - Mogilev, Gomel, Brest, and Grodno.
“After my therapy I feel really unwell so it's important I have my mother's emotional and physical support,” 23-year-old leukemia patient Lesha, a resident of the SOS Social Center, recently told the BBC. “It would be difficult if I was on my own.”
Lilya Shestakova, who runs the facility, says that SOS staff also teach families how to cook healthy meals “so when they return home, they can continue to maximize the effects of the treatment.” To this day, certain foods in the region such as mushrooms and berries are contaminated by radiation; it is especially important that rural-based families be educated about how to minimize radiation levels when selecting and preparing food.
Support for Families Living Under Chernobyl’s Long Shadow
Playing on the playground at an SOS Village in Belarus. Photo by Benno Neeleman
Many of the families in Belarus affected by Chernobyl continue to suffer the long-term psychological effects of ill health and displacement. Through its social center, SOS also works with local authorities to identify local families in crisis. SOS gives these households food subsidies, support for children’s education, parenting classes, counseling, and legal advice.
And, of course, SOS also provides warm homes for vulnerable children without parental care through its three Children’s Villages in Belarus.
You can be part of creating loving homes for children whose families remain deeply scarred by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Become a Global Village Builder. For as little as $12 a month, you can provide the essentials of life to children whose life prospects would otherwise be very limited.
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