Children from areas affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster have enjoyed some much-needed respite at Scotland’s Rural College this summer.
SRUC’s Oatridge campus provided a base for children from Belarus as part of two visits organised by the charity Friends of Chernobyl’s Children West Lothian.
A total of 22 children, aged between seven and 12, were hosted by West Lothian families in June, with a further 12 children coming in August.
Co-ordinator Kenny Turnbull, who works at SRUC’s Oatridge Golf Course, said: “In Belarus, the children live mainly in wooden houses, with outside toilets and a well in the street for water. With temperatures getting down to -35C in winter, a trip to the well to get a bucket of water can be a very difficult experience.
“We visit the children twice a year in their homes close to the exclusion zones. They live in poverty and grow most of their own food – unfortunately on land that is contaminated by radiation. As a result the food is also contaminated, doing their bodies a lot of harm.
“In the last year we have lost the two-year-old brother of one of the girls to cancer and we currently have a 16-year-old girl, who spent five years with us, fighting bone cancer.
“Here the children can be children, playing outdoors for many hours without fear of being contaminated by radiation. They eat lots of our uncontaminated food. All of this helps their bodies have a break from dealing with radiation and generally improves their health, confidence and outlook on life.”
The base at Oatridge is an important part of the activity programme organised for the children, which includes visits to parks, beaches, castles, indoor and outdoor activity centres, swimming pools, schools, museums and tourist attractions, as well as health-related visits to the dentist, optician and doctor.
“At Oatridge, we have craft time, English lessons and concert practice,” said Kenny. “We also play games and watch Russian movies if the weather isn’t good.
“Our activity programme is enjoyed so much by the children and having our base at Oatridge is a huge part of that. We love the technology in the room for watching movies, assisting with our English lessons and allowing us to listen to Russian radio while doing crafts. All of these things make the children feel really at home.”
In November, the charity will return to Belarus to find new children from an area called Klimavichy to join returning youngsters for next year’s visit.
“We know it well,” said Kenny. “We travel around 25 kilometres through an exclusion zone, passing a closed village where only six of the 70 children were classed as healthy in 1990, to get to these children.
“We have the new host families lined up to receive them and it’s great to know that SRUC Oatridge will continue to be our base for our activities programme in 2020.”