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Local News - Monday, August 13, 2007 @ 10:00
If anyone has a reason to party, it's these children. Smiling with newly repaired teeth and showing their healthy summer tans, 50 lucky children from Belarus gathered at the Belleville-area home of Brenda and Farley Vader Saturday for the end-of-summer party for Quinte's Children of Chernobyl.
It's been 13 years since Belarusian children began coming to Quinte, though it wasn't until 1998 that QCOC was founded formally.
The summer trips give the often pale, sick and malnourished youth time to eat, drink, breathe and heal free of radioactive fallout caused by the 1986 meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine.
"By the time they go back there's a big change in their appearance. It's remarkable, really," said QCOC's Farley Vader. "They stay healthier for a whole year after - we've had parents tell us that." This year the group brought 50 children and three interpreters from the Belarusian village of Nemerszha and the surrounding region, making QCOC the largest organization in Canada in terms of the number of visiting children.
They were billeted with families around the Quinte region.
It was Vladimir "Vova" Krauchuk's sixth summer in Canada. The 15-year-old speaks excellent English and wants to become a translator; two of his siblings are also in Canada this season.
"I have a lot of fun here," he said.
"The best part is I get my teeth fixed and I get my eyes checked every two years. I eat healthy food here."
Krauchuk was modelling the new glasses he'd received this summer.
"I can see much better with my glasses," he said, adding the hole in his heart is also getting smaller.
The blonde-haired, blue-eyed teen has a ventricular septal defect. Farley Vader says such holes in the heart are somewhat common among children living in the fallout
The problem hasn't been linked conclusively to radioactivity, but he said
Chernobyl is suspected as a factor.
But Krauchuk's heart condition, as well as headaches he suffers, have been improving.
"He puts on 10 pounds every summer," said Amy Romagnoli of Beamsville. Krauchuk stays with her family each year.
"He comes one child and leaves another," she said, adding his mother "sends us a letter saying, 'I can't believe this is my son.'
"His doctor in Belarus says Canada is the best thing for his health."
Maksim Kharlap, 14, is an orphan from Minsk, Belarus finishing his seventh summer with Kerry and Roger Ramsay of Belleville. He refers to them as his mother and father.
"I wish I can stay here forever because it's better," Kharlap said in English. When he's in Belarus, "I think about my dad and mom," he said, smiling at the Ramsays.
"It's a very rewarding experience," Kerry said.
Olia Valkovich is one of three interpreters travelling with the children. She works for Hope for the Future, a Belarusian organization helping children take trips away from home to better their health.
"When kids come back from such trips they are less likely to catch a cold, so their immune system improves," Valkovich said, adding other health problems also improve, and the children may become more social.
"Sometimes, especially the kids from orphanages, are very reserved. Being here helps them to become more open.
"Love works its magic on them," said Valkovich.
In spite of the Canadians' love, however, Romagnoli said foster families must remember that they're only to provide a friendly summer home and the things the children can't get in Belarus, such as healthy food and medical care.
Unless the children are orphans, she said, most "have loving families and we can't replace them."
Summer parents at the party said the task requires an open mind and often much patience because of cultural differences, language barriers, and more.
"It's been very challenging," said Davidson Tate of Port Hope. Caring for nine-year-old Slava Sauchuk was his family's first experience in the QCOC program.
"It's been very challenging," he said, but added the family may again try it.
"We know that we've helped him," he said, noting Slava had five teeth pulled, six cavities filled, and two root canals. He's cut back on his huge candy intake and now brushes his teeth regularly, and the many sores on his body - another common problem in Belarus - have healed.
"We're definitely going to send home vitamins for the whole family," Tate added.
The children and translators leave Aug. 18, but the program isn't just a summer effort for the QCOC executive.
Throughout the year, Vader said, they send everything from care packages to children to blankets and sports equipment for their families and schools in Belarus.
They're now planning to send a shipment this fall, and there can never be enough donations.
Last April, Vaders and fellow executive member Ray Finkle returned to Belarus to visit the families they help. Farley Vader said it's devastating to see the impoverished, fallout-ravaged conditions in which the people live, but it's equally motivating.
"You always see another child or several children that are in need - not just because of the radiation contamination, but the poverty. They're only making 50, 60 dollars a month.
"Your heart's left behind there."
He said the public can help in a variety of ways.
"We're looking for families," he said. "People all across Ontario are contacting us and wanting to host children.
"We can always use cash donations. It's all income-tax deductible.
"Clothing is a bonus too," he continued. "The kids really appreciate it."
Local quilters have donated a quilt, he said, and winter hats, mittens, and other warm clothing are also important.
"Over-the-counter medication is a big thing. It's something they can't get over there, and even if they could, they can't afford it." That includes medicated ointments, cough syrup, and especially vitamins, Vader said.
If your family can host a child, or if you'd like to make a donation, call the Vaders at 613-962-4332.
Vova Krauchuk encouraged Canadians to get involved because of the difference it makes for children like him.
"It will make life much easier for them."
How you can help
Every summer Quinte's Children of Chernobyl, a registered charity, brings children from Belarus -a major fallout site after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown - to Ontario so they can improve their health.
You can help by becoming billeting a child in your family's home or by donating:
Cash - tax receipts are available.
Over-the-counter medication: vitamins, cough syrup, medicated ointments.
Sports equipment (i.e. soccer balls), board games, card games, craft supplies, etc.
New clothing for any season, especially winter.
Other necessities, such as toiletries.
For more information:
QCOC website: www3.sympatico.ca/darth-vader/qcoc.htm
Brenda or Farley Vader, 613-962-4332