“Children of Chernobyl” Summer Medical Program

A past event that inspired me, touched my heart and left a warm and  lasting impression on my mind!

It was brought to my attention that Project Restoration brings children from the country of Belarus, the former Soviet Republic, to the United States for a very special program.

That country received some 60% of the radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant explosion in 1986. Because the radiation still lingers after more than 23 years, the government has allowed children to leave the country to help rid their bodies of accumulated radiation. It is believed that the children’s immune systems are improved when they leave their contaminated environment.

While here, they received wholesome food, drink and non-radiated water and are able to breathe the fresh air.

Because they came here from about 7 different locations in Belarus, the level of radiation was different for all of them, and so was the extent of their deformities and physical challenges.

The program is called a “medical program” as children have significant medical needs and return year after year, in some cases, even receive prostheses.

“Children of Chernobyl” Summer Medical Program
Harpist – Mary Kathleen Gratton

It was shared that, the “Children of Chernobyl” Respite Program was shut down by the Belarusian government due to a situation in Petaluma, California in which a 16 year old girl refused to return home. Each year their government increases the challenges to bring children here because of this. They did however, allow children with medical needs to travel this year, but that meant that all who were invited were required to have some kind of physical problem or disability that therapy would help. The government also required that the children coming here must be less than 14 years of age.

I understand that a majority of the appointments consisted of treatment for various orthopedic problems and several cases of cerebral palsy. Treatment included physical therapy, occupational therapy, and chiropractic tissue release.

The generous healthcare community donated hundreds of appointments. It was stated that some of the doctors have been with the program for years. They also provided such things as lab work, x-rays and basic exams for the children.

The children were housed with volunteer families that not only hosted them, but cared for and nurtured them, and took them to or arranged for them to travel to their intense medical and dental appointments, therapy sessions and any other activities that they needed to attend each day!

“Children of Chernobyl” Summer Medical Program
Children of Chernobyl and Translators

Once a week, the children participated in educational, just plain “fun” or service-orientated activities. They went to a water park and were involved in a project for Harvesters in which they actually went to the warehouse and bagged apples. They saw and experienced things, as never before in their lives.

I understand that in the first few days in the US, one of the girls cried almost constantly for a while until she adjusted. Another consideration was the fact that many of them were eating foods that they had never seen or tasted before.

Can you imagine sending your child 5,000 miles away to live with a family you’ve never met? Imagine that challenges that these youngsters have with just the language barrier alone?

We were contacted on last minute notice to lend a musical component to their US experiences. We quickly pulled together an appropriate program for their age and set out to deliver our music. This was the first performance that I have ever played for that necessitated a translator.

The young children sat captive as we performed and afterwards gave us a hearty thank you. It was a most rewarding experience to entertain these young children who were so mannerly, well-behaved and extremely appreciative.

Afterwards, they crowded around us as we explained our instruments and allowed them to try out our instruments. Music was universal, despite the language barriers. We were surprised to learn that the children were familiar with, and could identify the tunes that we performed.

I met children that had severe deformities, but all were cheerful and none felt sorry for themselves or their situation.

One young gal said nonchalantly that she enjoyed playing soccer until her legs quit growing and therefore, she was no longer able to keep up with her classmates that outgrew her in size and strength. She simply felt blessed to have

“Children of Chernobyl” Summer Medical Program
Jeanne Fizell demonstrates the autoharp

played for the amount of time that she had and stated that she found other talents to occupy her time!

It was explained that the children return home with a video of their therapy sessions to show their parents their prescribed exercises so they can encourage their children to follow through on what they learned.

It is interesting to note that these children bonded with their host families and made ties with those who were privileged to work with them and serve them. A most rewarding experience, one that left an imprint upon my heart and one that I will NEVER forget!

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