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The children who have never seen the sea
TWO weeks ago their faces were expressionless — but now they are a picture of pure joy.
Seventeen children from Belarus are clearly delig-ting in their stay with families in South Lakeland and north Lancashire.
They are here for a month of recuperation thanks to Olwyn Keogh, of Silverdale, who set up the charity Friends of Chernobyl’s Children.
Asked if they were enjoying themselves, they all jumped up and down as one shouting: ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ Coming to England, and Morecambe Bay in partic-ular, has been a real eye-opener for the children.
Living in a land-locked country they have never before seen the sea and were in awe of the sand and waves.
Swimming has also been a real novelty and they have been having lessons at Bleasdale School in Silver-dale as well as joining in a range of fun-filled activities from visiting the park to making music and baking.
They have also been receiving healthcare, with much-needed visits to a dentist, optician and doctor.
It is all a far cry from the world in which they live their daily lives – and nearly all have a horror story to tell.
“One little boy saw his father try to strangle his mother 18 months ago, and another tried to save his six-year-old sister from a pond, but she died,” said Ms Keogh. “They are all either orphans, in foster care, ort come from large families or single parent families.
“They come with very few clothes and many of them live on potatoes or contami-nated food and water. It’s very sad.
“We make sure they are given plenty of clothes and nutrition while they are here and also that they take lots back home with them.”
Those caring for the young visitors also gain a great deal from seeing them enjoying what we take for granted as life’s simple pleasures.
Robin Daw and his family, of Silverdale, have Kostia staying with them. Mr Daw said meeting the little boy had been ‘a really good experience’.
“My fiance and I have four children already and it’s been so valuable for them as well as us. The language barrier just doesn’t seem to matter as they play together. It’s amazing after such a short time to see the difference in Kostia.”
Arnside vicar the Rev Gary Ridley also said it had been a ‘really positive’ time.
“We have a little girl called Nastia staying with us and she is absolutely brilliant,” he said. “She has the most lovely traits and qualities, and she’s a thoughtful girl who helps around the house.
“We can see an enormous difference in her since she arrived — even in her facial expressions. It really has been the lighting up of a little child’s life.”
Seven-year-old Ira said that she loved the sweets and ice-cream and that the favourite day out so far had been to the Lakeland Maize Maze at Sedgwick.
Ms Keogh set up the charity in 1994 when she lived near Blackburn.
She had a little girl stay from Belarus and thought she ought to do more to help.
The charity now has 34 groups across the country and Ms Keogh’s move to Silverdale prompted her to set one up in the village.
“The time the children spend here is desperately needed to boost their immune system which was badly affected by radiation,” said Ms Keogh.
“The difference it makes to their health is amazing.
“We also keep in contact with them throughout the year, and have someone working for us in Belarus.”
To find out more or to offer help, contact Mrs Keogh on 01524-702330 or visit focc.org.uk