IT was smiles all round on Thursday last week as the first of the Chernobyl children arrived into Kilkenny to meet their host families.
For some, it is their first time in Ireland; others are returning to host families with whom they have stayed for years. The party began in earnest on Monday in Supermacs on High Street, as the 47 kids and their host families met to have lunch and get to know one another.
Supermacs brought in 10 extra staff for the party, to help cope with the extra requirements of 47 highly-excited children. Many of the staff were there on a voluntary basis, giving of their own time to help with face-painting, balloon making and other entertainment.
Chernobyl Kilkenny Outreach group leader Jim Kavanagh said everyone was delighted to see the kids arrive.
“We have some who are here for the first time, as well as a few who would know Kilkenny fairly well at this stage,” he said.
“This year we would have a lot of children from the contaminated zone in Southern Belarus. They don’t realise that they are living in that environment. I think [the local authorities] are now getting the idea that we want them from there, it is nice to see that.”
This is the 26th year of CCI’s Rest and Recuperation programme in Ireland. The arrival of this summer’s children brings the total number of children who have benefited under the scheme to over 22,000 since 1991.
Mr Kavanagh says that their is still a strong interest in helping out with the charity in Kilkenny.
“We never says ‘no’ to new families,” he said.
“Not everyone can do it every year, maybe there are exams, or holidays. But we are always looking for new families.”
“I’d like to say thanks to all the people and the venue for hosting the party, as well as any other people and events held while they’re here.”
Rita Cullen, who is one of the host parents, added her own words of gratitude.
“We’d just like to thank everyone, all the host families for coming up,” she said.
“Also to thank the staff at Supermacs for everything they’ve done today.”
The summer is a particularly dangerous time for the children as the intense heat in the affected countries contributes to redistribution of radioactive materials. Research has shown that the children’s radiation levels drop by 30-50% during their stay in Ireland. Many of the children suffer from a variety of Chernobyl-related illnesses and receive ongoing medical treatment while in Ireland.
Mayor of Kilkenny David Fitzgerald, who stopped by the party to meet the children, said it was great to see so many of them returning to the county.
“This is a wonderful occasion, and it is a huge credit to the parents and families who have taken on children for years,” he said.
“It is great to see the children enjoying themselves here – many of them come from difficult backgrounds and difficult circumstances back home.”