Chernobyl and Belarus

Remember Chernobyl - that fateful day in 1986? Many people in Belarus have good reason to. Although the explosion occurred in the Ukraine, the cloud of radioactive material drifted north over the eastern part of Belarus (Chernobyl is less than 20Km from the Belarus border), contaminating large areas of the country. Around 75% of the contamination from the explosion occurred in Belarus. The immediate effect was a 200-fold increase in the incidence of thyroid cancers, caused by radioactive iodine. As iodine, has a relatively short half life, risks arising from it reduce relatively quickly - only to be replaced by risks from caesium-137, strontium-90, and plutonium-239 with half-lives of 30, 29, and 24,400 years, respectively. In 1998, New Scientist magazine quoted research showing an 85% increase in congenital malformations in children in the most heavily contaminated areas, and a 24% increase in the so-called 'clean' areas of Belarus. Other manifestations of the radioactive contamination are increased rates of tumours and leukemia. Because of the long decay period associated with the conatiminating elements, the problem gets worse as time goes by when virulent material is distributed over even wider areas as a result of the action of wind and water.

Kids Aloft 2000

The Kids Aloft 2000 project is the latest in a series of projects (run every 2-3 years) which provided a holiday in Scotland for 96 children (and 10 adult supervisors) from Belarus, from June 7 to 27. Many parts of Belarus are still severely contaminated, and the country's economy has been disrupted. Even those children who are considered healthy by Belarus standards, often suffer from weakened immune systems. The object of the project was therefore to give as many children as possible the opportunity to enjoy fresh air, exercise and good food in order to build up their general health. Some doctors estimate that every week spent out of their polluted environment could add around a year to their lives. The children were hosted by 12 Baptist churches throughout central Scotland, each church taking 12 or 24 children for 10 days (7-17 June or 17-27 June). Maybole Baptist hosted a party of 12 children and 2 adults from 17 to 27 June. In this way, the children had the opportunity to see two different parts of the country. They were accommodated in the homes of volunteers in the respective towns where they were based. Extensive programmes of outings were arranged by the churches, to maximise the 'fun factor'. In addition, the churches provided the kids with clothing and other items which will be of use on their return home. Many of the gifts received by children on previous visits of this kind, were passed on to relatives and other needy children on their return home, so the benefits of the visit are felt beyond the immediate circle of children involved.