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Waterford may lose Chernobyl children

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  • Waterford may lose Chernobyl children

    Waterford may lose Chernobyl children
    By Louise McCarthy

    EVERY summer hundreds of Belarussian children travel to Waterford to get a
    break from the severe pollution pervading their country.

    However, this could all come to an end due to a recent statement made by
    Belarussian President, Alexander Lukashenko.

    He believes children should be allowed to travel abroad “in cases of
    emergency only”, while authorities in Belarus have already put a freeze on
    adoptions and are to severely curtail travel abroad for sick children from the
    New Year.

    Paul O’ Neill, from Waterford, has been actively involved in the Chernobyl
    Children’s Project for the past ten years. He works mainly with
    sight-impaired children in a place called Basilivichi, in the Gomel Region.

    Every year over 25 children travel to Waterford on holidays sponsored by Bausch
    and Lomb and reside in college accommodation for a few weeks.

    “If the proposed law comes into place, it will be a terrible shame for us,
    and for Europe. I believe the Belarussian government is afraid that the kids
    will see the alternative way of life and become inspired to revolt,” he said.

    Basilivichi has a population of 8,000 people with over 100 children in the
    orphanage. All the children are sightimpaired, with many already blind. The
    nearest university is a six to eight hours drive, so many of the children go on
    to work in a nearby factory doing menial labour. The average wage is $30-40 a

    According to medical professionals, three weeks in a country with clean air can
    prolong their lives by two years. U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan, says that
    it is not until 2016 that we will see the true effects of the Chernobyl
    disaster but already children as young as two are dying from thyroid cancer,
    the biggest killer in Belarus and there is a reported 90% increase in eye

    “When I went to Belarus and saw the blind children, I felt obliged to do
    something. With the support of the world-wide Mercy fund and Bausch & Lomb, we
    felt we could support and improve these children’s lives.”

    “With financial support we have provided children with eye-examinations.
    Waterford Regional Hospital has provided children with prosthetic eyes while
    some children have been given laser treatment.

    “We sponsored an 18-year - old to come to Ireland last year. He was blind and
    had only seen a specialist once in his life. Many children would never get the
    opportunity to get a new pair of glasses or see a specialist if they hadn’t
    come to Waterford,” said Paul O’Neill.

    According to Paul, juvenile glaucoma is another serious health risk in Belarus.
    However, if treated early it can be cured.

    “We really hope that this law will not come into being. If it does, we will
    not abandon the children. We will go over to Belarus and give them three weeks
    of fun. I sincerely hope that we will not have to resort to these measures. We
    have holidays pre-booked since last January, if this law is enacted all our
    plans will have to be cancelled,” he said.

    The Belarussian Ambassador in London, is to present his credentials to
    President of Ireland, Mary McAleese on December 16, and she will raise the
    matter with him directly then.

    A good friend will come and bail you out of jail . . . but, a true friend will
    be sitting next to you saying, "**** . . . that was fun!"
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