When Susan Affleck of Rainy River first heard about the Relief Fund for Chernobyl Victims in Belarus, she realized what a difference it could make in a child's life to receive all the health benefits just from visiting this beautiful area.
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which occurred April 26, 1986, still has an impact on the 2.2 million citizens of Belarus to this day, especially on the 800,000 children there.
That's why the Canadian Relief Fund for Chernobyl Victims in Belarus, a non-profit, registered charity, has been developed to take the children from their contaminated environment and provide respite care for them in Canadian homes for six to 10 weeks each summer.
Affleck learned first-hand of the benefits by talking with the Borys Sorokopud family from Kingston, Ont., who were in Rainy River visiting his mother last week. The Sorokopuds have been a host family for the past five years, providing a healthy environment for Belarusian children affected by radiation.
Sorokopud, who was raised in Rainy River, and his wife, Rachel, read about this unique opportunity and decided to act on it right away. Along with their children, Alex and Lise, it has proven to be a positive experience for everyone.
Currently, the Sorokopuds are guardians of Olga Morozova, 11, who lives in the town of Chaussey, just 80 km northeast of Chernobyl.
This is her second summer visiting the Sorokopuds, having arrived June 9 and will be departing Aug. 16. She also made the trip up to Rainy River.
“You see the difference physically—in their energy and personalities," said Rachel Sorokopud. ”The mothers that correspond said they don't recognize their daughters when they come home.
“They gain an average of 10 pounds, and tend to be more outgoing,” she added.
Rachel noted it takes about two weeks for the radiation to leave the body of the children. Since they haven't reached puberty yet, their immune systems are more susceptible to effects while being formed.
Members of the fund said their observations show that children experience a disappearance of headaches, dizziness, irritability, tearfulness, improvement of sleep, and a desire to participate in sports after their recuperation in radiation-free zones such as Canada.
Language was really the only obstacle young Morozova and the Sorokopuds had to overcome. But since she has been learning English at school in Chaussey, communication has become easier.
“I like everything, especially freedom!” she replied when asked what she enjoys most about Canada.
The Sorokopuds said Morozova has adjusted and fits in quite well. Making friends doesn't seem to be a problem.
“Canadian kids seem to be able to communicate well and there is this general acceptance,” Sorokopud said.
Her husband, Borys, agreed with the many benefits Morozova was receiving but emphasized their main objective.
“Essentially, the idea is to get them out for their health,” he noted.
Since 1991, 150,000 Belarusian children have been hosted in 19 countries. Canada focuses on the Chaussey area, with more than 500 children hosted by the fund in 1996.
The goal is to raise enough funds in 1997 for 1,000 children to visit Canada.
This is where Affleck comes in. With much enthusiasm, she is encouraging the surrounding district to assist with the fund, which is supported entirely by local community fundraising.
Its work is possible only because of the more than 1,000 willing and capable volunteers in communities across Canada who give of their time and services.
Among those volunteers are Canadian families who welcome a Belarusian child into their home every summer, and raise more than $1,000 each to support the child's travel and other costs.
Aside from this, the fund also provides medical supplies and equipment to Belarusian hospitals, schools, and orphanages. It even brings Belarusian doctors and nurses to Canada to observe techniques regarding radiation-related illness.
In order for this district to be able to have Belarusian children enter Canada, at least 10 host families must be willing to participate so an interpreter can be sent as well.
Affleck hopes fundraising can start in the fall to allow Belarusian children to enter Canada by next summer. Willing volunteers and potential host families can contact her at 852-4434 for more details.