When a deadly nuclear power plant accident spreads radiation across the world, you can’t take it back. That contamination, from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine, hit neighboring Belarus the hardest. Not only those living there at the time, but children born long since, have suffered the health effects of exposure to long-lasting radioactive fallout. The long-term answer, of course, is to rid the world of nuclear power plants, ensuring that no one need suffer from their deadly poison again. But in the short-term, solutions are also needed to help those suffering today.
That is where Linda Walker stepped in.
Linda started her charity, Chernobyl Children’s Project UK, in 1995, inspired by Chernobyl Children International, founded in 1991 in Ireland by Adi Roche. Linda quickly realized that in addition to bringing children from Chernobyl-affected areas to the UK for “radiation vacations,” her group needed to be active on the ground in Belarus as well.
Even before the first group of children arrived for a recuperative vacation in England, money was raised to send a reconditioned and aid-laden ambulance to Belarus. By the end of 1995, CCP(UK) had also sent a 40-foot trailer to Belarus, packed with humanitarian aid.
Since then, and under Linda’s leadership, CCP(UK) has supported children’s hospices; trained orphanage staff; and routinely delivered ambulances and humanitarian aid to Belarus. CCP(UK) runs a foster care training program which has helped to get children out of orphanages and into local families; and organizes a major program of educational visits to the UK, supported by the Department for International Development and UNICEF.
CCP(UK) has also worked closely with children with disabilities, providing them with toys, wheelchairs and mobility aids, and taking them for an annual holiday within the country.
The UK recuperative holiday program for children started in two towns but rapidly expanded to others across the country. At first, it was available only to healthy children until Linda and her team noticed how well two children responded who were in remission from cancer. The program duly expanded to include children in remission. Today, all the children CCP(UK) brings to the UK are in remission from cancer.
Willing to learn at every step, Linda then recognized that some children who were well enough to travel to her UK program, were too young to go abroad alone. A program was created that allowed the younger children to travel with their mothers. Linda saw that these mothers had also been through a highly stressful time as their children fought cancer, and were almost, if not as much, in need of a holiday as the children. The mothers dubbed this the “Dream Come True” program.
The program expanded again when Linda and her colleague realized that the opposite was also true — children in need in their late teens were overlooked by some charities as too old. CCP(UK) stepped in to accommodate youngsters up to 20 years old as well. For the last 20 years, 18 teenagers in remission from cancer have visited the UK every year.
Linda also saw opportunity for similar respites within Belarus itself. Beginning in 1998, an annual holiday trip was established for children from Zhuravichi Boarding Home and from Garadyets Special School who had never had the chance of a holiday before.
Linda encourages specialists to lend their services to her program in Belarus. Medical students, physiotherapists, teachers, and early years workers are among the many who help out, often raising their own air fares and giving two weeks of hard work.
Babies are still born today suffering from disabilities, diseases or genetic disorders, tied to the Chernobyl disaster, whether through radiation exposure or damaged DNA. Luckily, there is a Linda Walker to help them.