Derry Journal
30 April 2012

On April 29 1986 a nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine, releasing 190 tons of radioactive material into the atmosphere, 70 per cent of which fell over Belarus. The following years brought a massive rise in birth defects, heart conditions and childhood cancers, which continue to this day to affect children born into the danger zones.

Many of the children born with birth defects or other health conditions are abandoned by their parents who are not in a position to care for them due to extreme poverty. The majority of these children will end up in adult mental asylums where they will spend the rest of their lives.

The results were and remain to this day – catastrophic. Four hundred times more radioactive material was released than had been by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Every year, a small number of children from Belarus visit the North West for respite thanks to the kindness and generosity of 14 host families who are members of the North West branch of Chernobyl Children International.

This week, along with Derry’s Mayor Alderman Maurice Devenney, representatives from the group launched a massive fundraising drive. They aim to raise £50,000 to build a ‘Home for Hope’ in Belarus and help some children escape from the horrific sentence of life in orphanages and mental asylums.

Derry woman Emma Hunt, who recently visited Belarus, is urging as many local people as possible to support their cause.

“This Home for Hope will make a huge difference,” she says.

“Belarus is a bleak, bleak place. People are forced to live in awful conditions and they’re eating vegetables which are grown on contaminated land because they have no other choice. During my time there I was visiting children at one of the schools. We brought our own lunch and pulled over to eat it. One side of the road was a picnic site and the other side was a radiation site. It was as if the radiation stops at the white line. It’s just heartbreaking for the children involved who have so little hope,” she adds.

Siobhan McNally, Group Leader of Chernobyl Childrens International Foyle and Inishowen Outreach is hoping as many people from the North West as possible will make a small donation to the Home for Hope fund.

“This is just the beginning of the fundraising and the Home for Hope will make a huge difference. It will only be made possible with help from people here. We’re giving ourselves five years to raise the 50,000 euro and while we understand that we’re living in a difficult climate we hope that people will be able to give just a little bit to help support us,” she says.

Siobhan, Emma and other members of CCI’s Foyle and Inishowen branch will be holding a street collection in the city today (Sunday).

Other fundraising activities will take part in the city over the summer months. See local press for details or, to make a donation, contact Siobhan on 07588866865.