Families across Yorkshire are again rallying to help
the children hit by the Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster as its 20th anniversary nears. Andrew Robinson reports.
ROYDS School is a small part of a massive countrywide effort to help the people of Belarus, a country which received 70 per cent of the radioactive fallout in the 1986 disaster.
Pupils and teachers at the school in Rothwell, Leeds, have worked together to fill a large lorry with every type of item - from toothpaste to washing machines - to give to the desperately poor people of Belarus, where the average monthly wage for an unskilled worker is around ?25.
Royds, which is twinned with a school in Belarus, has raised thousands of pounds to help revamp and re-equip the school in Maleiki, a small village about 40km (25 miles) away from Chernobyl, which is across the border in the Ukraine.
Joining the eight-day trip is Andy Pollard, an Army instructor, and his wife Helen, who teaches languages at Royds.
Mr Pollard, who works at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, is flying out on April 6 with six Royds teachers, including organiser Sally Stow, to help deliver the aid which set off yesterday in a five-truck convoy.
The school has been working with two charities, Chernobyl Children Lifeline and Chernobyl Children's Project, to raise money and equipment. Children have donated items such as toothpaste and other toiletries and fundraising by the 1,200 pupils school brought in ?3,500.
Mrs Pollard said: "The village has a population of about 400. The country and the economy are in turmoil.
"The people are mainly farmers but they can't export their food because it's contaminated. We have a fundraising thermometer at the school and all the pupils know what happened to the Chernobyl children. A lot of families hosted a visit by Belarussian children last year. We are really excited about the trip but are worried about the political unrest at the moment. We are also visiting children in a cancer hospital in Minsk."
Her husband added: "The children out there are blighted by cancer. A lot of them have had to have their lymph glands out, leaving them with a scar which h as become known as the Belarus Necklace.
"We have helped fill a lorry. We have had clothes donated by Next, chairs and tables from the Army Foundation College, school equipment from Marks & Spencer and electrical equipment from Morphy Richards. The school we are visiting is used as a community centre so we are taking them a TV, video, washing machines and a new boiler. Five lorries are in the convoy - one of them is ours."
Royds School also hosts visits by children recovering from cancer and other ailments. Just a couple of weeks of fresh air in Britain is said to boost their immune system and improve their chances of a longer life.
Thyroid cancer in children has increased by more than 100 times in southern areas of Belarus. Despite the hardships, Belarussian people are remarkably generous and hospitable, says Mike Allison, aid co-ordinator of the Chernobyl Children's Project.
Mr Allison, of Monk Fryston, near Leeds, has visited the area many times and the people are always warm and generous, in spite of abject poverty. "For families with a sick or disabled child life is hardest of all. When a child has cancer he will have to spend months having treatment in Minsk, which means the mother will have to stay with him and leave behind other children."
He said there was some stigma attached to a child falling ill with cancer, but this was worse when a child was born with a physical or mental disability.
More details at www.chernobyl-children.org.uk and www.chernobylchildlifeline.org