Emerging from the cloud of Chernobyl


Visiting Canada every summer provides Nadia Kurhan with an opportunity to learn English and experience a different culture, but most importantly it's adding years to her life.

For the past eight years the 15-yearold Belarus native has been participating in the Canadian Relief Fund for Chernobyl Victims in Belarus (CRFCVB). Nadia's most recent visit included staying in Dunnville with Grandview Lodge administrator Joanne Jackson and her family.

Joanne became aware of the CRFCVB through the Chatham-Kent Essex Lambton (CKEL) chapter and soon became an active member welcoming Nadia into her home for a summer respite eight years ago.

"I heard about the group on the radio and before I knew it I was kind of addicted," Joanne said. "We're one of the few families to keep bringing the same child back for summer visits."

The CRFCVB was formed in 1989 to provide medical and humanitarian aid to the people of Belarus. The CKEL chapter has operated for about 10 years and this summer will welcome 39 children between the ages of eight and 15 to be hosted by families extending from Blenheim to Windsor and Sarnia. After moving to Dunnville Joanne wanted to continue to be involved in the CKEL chapter and welcomed Nadia to her Bird Road home this summer.

The aim of the CRFCVB is to provide a few weeks of respite care to children from Belarus who live in areas deeply impacted by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion in the Ukraine in 1986. In the days following the worst nuclear disaster in human history winds and weather patterns sent 70 per cent of the radioactive fallout into Belarus, a small country located eight kilometres to the north. This fallout affected three million people, 800,000 of them children, and exposed the Belarus population of 10 million people to the tragic aftermath of Chernobyl.

Studies conducted following the Chernobyl accident have shown that by the mid-1990s thyroid cancer had increased 200 times in some areas of Belarus. In a United Nations study released in 2002 only 20 per cent of children and teenagers living in affected areas were considered healthy.

"Some children from Belarus have been tested and have 400 times the radiation that we have in our bodies," Joanne said. "People don't realize this because you can't see the radiation, but it's a continuous vicious cycle because what they are eating and drinking is radiated. It will take 400 to 500 years for the radiation to be gone from their land."

It's projected that getting these children away from their contaminated surroundings for four weeks every summer adds two years to their lives.

This respite time in Canada helps strengthen their immune systems by providing a healthy environment and good food. Visiting children also receive medical, dental and eye examinations and treatments often provided through the generosity of medical professionals in host communities.

"Their teeth are greatly affected by the radiation," Joanne said. "If they can get treatment each year it helps them. Nadia's immune system is also down so when she gets sick it takes her longer than my kids to recover."



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