Chernobyl children come to Cumbernauld

Written by Scott Campbell, Cumbernauld Media's Senior Reporter.

Published at 14:09 on 15 September 2015


Chernobyl Children's Life Line t-shirt. Picture: Scott Campbell for Cumbernauld Media

CUMBERNAULD’S Café Vanilla provided a delightful change of scenery, as well as a slap-up breakfast, for ten children from Ukraine, last week.

Last Thursday (10th September), the Eastfield-based family business opened their doors to the group of youngsters, who were on a three-week trip to Scotland. 

Far from being a holiday, the three-week visit to Scotland provides valuable health benefits for the youngsters who grow up in a Chernobyl-contaminated area of Ukraine.

On April 26th, 1986 the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered an uncontrollable reactor power surge, causing the core to blow and resulting in a massive explosion of deadly radioactive contents into the air.

Statistics suggest that the Chernobyl explosion killed more than 30 people immediately, while 350,400 people had to be permanently evacuated in the aftermath.  

Today, over eight million people continue to live in Chernobyl-contaminated areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, many of them being children.

By bringing some of the kids from the affected areas to Scotland, it is suggested that their immune systems build up valuable resistance to disease, and improves their long-term health.

Abronhill resident, Gail Macdonald is the chairwoman of the Forth Valley Link of the Chernobyl Children’s Life Line charity. 

Cafe Vanilla gave the kids breakfast. Pic: Scott Campbell for Cumbernauld Media.

Helping to organise the various trips that the youngsters went on while in Scotland, Mrs Macdonald’s family have opened their own home to some of the kids, and became a host family – a type of volunteering which the charity relies upon to house kids while on their visit. 

“I got involved with Chernobyl Children’s Life Line when I called the number on a marketing poster 5 years ago,” Gail explained to us when asked about how she became involved with the charity. 

“We became a host family, and loved our first experience. Since then, we have had 10 children share our home, lives and the freedom to breath fresh air and eat uncontaminated foods. 

“Very selfishly one of the reasons I got involved was to open up my own children’s eyes to the deprivation and issues elsewhere in the world. I felt that they lived in a comfortable bubble, unaware of the plight of others,” Gail added.

Describing being a host family as being “extremely rewarding”, Mrs Macdonald cited health improvements as one of the best reasons for people to get involved with the charity’s work.

“Only 10% of children born in the area reach adulthood without a birth defect, heart condition, thyroid problems, and bone fractures or particularly high are rates of childhood cancers,” Gail explained.

“By bringing the children to Scotland for between three to four weeks they benefit from the fresh air, and uncontaminated food and water supplies, thereby raising their immune system and giving them respite from colds and other normally simple infections for as much as two years.

“The optimum time to get their immune supplies built up is before puberty, so that they can go through puberty with lower levels of caesium, meaning that any dormant problems are no escalated in later life,” she added.

Ahead of leaving Scotland last Sunday (13th September), the children were treated to visits to Intu Braehead, World of Wings, Stirling’s Wallace Monument, as well as a day trip to Edinburgh, amongst others.

“The children are very grateful for everything they do and are given while on their visit to Scotland,” Gail commented. 

“They do, of course, have their favourites, such as the Wallace Monument, the day out in Edinburgh, or the fun-day at Intu Braehead.”

The kids outside the cafe. Picture: Scott Campbell for Cumbernauld Media.

Explaining more about the locations where the kids visit while on their excursion to Scotland, Gail described how the kids visit “child friendly”, such as “attractions, museums, play parks, swimming pools and bowling alleys.”

She explained, however, that “serious issues” also have to be addressed while the kids are in Scotland, such as “visits to local dentists and opticians”. 

Gail explained that such visits are necessary because they services offered are “expensive if available at home at all”. 

This year, the children were treated to goodie bags from Marks and Spencer, which included new items of clothing such as jackets, trousers and shoes for each of the youngsters.

The generosity from M&S was “great”, Gail commented, explaining that “most of the children come to Scotland for their visit poorly dressed,” citing the first main task is to “kit them out equally with winter jackets and leather shoes.”

Set up in 1986 by Victor Mizzi MBE to support the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Chernobyl Children’s Life Line charity has brought 46,000 children to the UK since it was founded.

The main issue is cost, however, as Gail explains: “The cost of bringing each person to Scotland by air is approximately £600, which when multiplied by 10 children becomes a daunting total of £6000.

She added: “We as a group have to fundraise to cover these costs, in addition to the entertainment and living expenses. Therefore, we depend on the generosity of places like Café Vanilla, who very kindly donated a wonderful breakfast, last Thursday.”

Appealing for more local families to get involved with the charity, Mrs Macdonald describing how being a host family can be “extremely rewarding”.

“These children are collected from the airport frightened, and are very unsure of where they are going or who with, they look poorly and lack energy,” Gail explained, adding: “However, over the weeks with us their energy improves greatly and confidence grows. Their English improves, their hair shines and their eyes sparkle as they become much more energetic.  

“The trip always ends with tears at the airport as close relationships are realised,” Gail added.

If anyone would be interested in becoming a host family, helping with fundraising or supporting the Chernobyl Children’s Life Line they should contact Gail Macdonald 07702 806640.

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