Children of Chernobyl visit RAF Lakenheath
European edition, Sunday, August 5, 2007
RAF LAKENHEATH, England
Despite the divisions among people today, certain things remain universal: Kids dig firetrucks.
That maxim was apparent again at RAF Lakenheath on Friday, when a group of young children from Belarus visited the air base, checking out military dog teams, the static air power displays, and of course, those big red engines.
The kids were here under the auspices of the Chernobyl Child Lifeline, an advocacy group that brings sick and less-fortunate Belarusian children to England for monthly holidays.
Belarus received most of the radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, when a nuclear power plant in the Ukraine exploded, according to Geoff Woolston, one of the organizers of Friday’s visit.
Children living in the fallout regions face an increased risk of certain kinds of cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
“Everything they eat and breathe over there is contaminated,” Woolston said.
The Lifeline is about giving these children some time in a healthier environment, doing things they might not have a chance to do otherwise, he said.
Even a month in the cleaner English environment can add years to the children’s young lives, he said.
The CCL relies on charitable donations, and volunteers serve as host families when the kids are visiting, he said.
“Life back home for most of the kids is not easy,” Woolston said.
“Some are living in a room,” he said. “That’s their living room, their kitchen and dining room.”
Misha Hlavki, 14, was all about the firetruck that Lakenheath’s 48th Civil Engineering Squadron rolled out for the visit, the first stop on their daylong base tour Friday.
It was his third year in the program and his first visit to such a base.
“I want to go up there,” he said through a translator as crews demonstrated a rescue ladder. “I like everything.”
Mike Warner looked on as his host child, 10-year-old Tanya, mingled with the other girls.
Language isn’t a problem when Warner’s family hosts kids like Tanya, he said.
“She speaks a bit more (English) than she lets on,” Warner said. “I’ve got three girls myself, and there’s no language barrier between her and the children.”
Lakenheath opening its doors to the group gives the kids new experiences, he said.
“They’re never going to see this kind of thing again,” Warner said.
To learn more about the Chernobyl Child Lifeline, log on to www.chernobylchildlifeline.org.