Children of Chernobyl
spend six weeks in Walla Walla
By: Kristi Spurgeon
Six weeks can make all the difference in the world – especially for a group of 15 children from Belarus.
On April 26, 1986, a nuclear reaction site in Chernobyl, Ukraine exploded, releasing more than 200 times the radiation that affected Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Winds blew 70 percent of that radioactive material into Belarus. The aftermath of that disaster continues to have a devastating effect on the two million people still in that region, particularly the children.
For the first time, Walla Walla is hosting some of those children. The Walla Walla Chapter of the Children of Chernobyl was organized by a small group of people with a mission, including Greg and Julie Lorren of Walla Walla College.
“We got involved after we found out that thyroid problems are so prevalent there,” says Julie Lorren, secretary for the English department. “That has affected our family too, so we have something in common.”
As an effect of the radiation buildup in their system, the children face many serious health problems, including trouble with their teeth, heart, thyroid, and ears. Leaving the contaminated area for even six weeks clears 85 percent of that buildup out of their bodies and improves their immune systems. Studies have shown that the children go home better able to fight off illness and are absent from school three times less often the following year.
“It makes a remarkable difference,” says Lorren. “The kids were tired and pale at first, but after three weeks, they’ve already perked up. Their faces are full of happiness and they’re running around with all the other kids.”
The girl staying with the Lorren family doesn’t have some of the serious health problems affecting the others, but is still enjoying the rest. Diana was born in Belarus. She turns 10 on August 30 and is looking forward to her upcoming birthday party. She speaks some English and is continually inviting her host family to Belarus to visit with her parents and 18-year-old brother, who recently joined a professional soccer team.
There are 16 host families, one for each child and one for the chaperone/translator. The host families have arranged for health screenings and treatments for the children, but are also entertaining them with trips to the zoo, the coast, Vacation Bible School, and Silverwood Theme Park. But what the kids really enjoy is swimming.
“About all they want to do is swim,” laughs Lorren. “They talk about the pool, the river, boating. They don’t have many opportunities to swim at home.”
It costs about $1,200 per child to bring them to Walla Walla. The Children of Chernobyl is a not-for-profit organization and is not sponsored by any specific church or organization. In fact, Lorren says it takes support from the entire community to bring this off. “God has made this opportunity possible for all of us. This wouldn’t happen without good, compassionate people wanting to make a difference in the world.”
“We think we are blessing these children by bringing them here. But they just warm your heart and you can’t help feeling blessed by them,” says Lorren. “They are incredibly brave to leave their homes at such a young age and fly 30 hours away to eat new foods and live with strangers.”
Lorren is excited about the future possibilities and hopes the Children of Chernobyl will continue in Walla Walla. “We’ve had such a response from people in the valley – dentists and doctors giving their time, the host families, people donating money and other support. I expect that we’ll be able to double the number of children we sponsor next year.”
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