- Special Feature
Chernobyl Childrens Project
This October Irish construction workers and trades people are coming together under the auspices of the Chernobyl Children’s Project to refurbish the dilapidated Zhytkovichy Day Care Centre near Chernobyl. This mammoth task will utilise volunteer skills to try and drastically improve the lives of those affected by what is widely accepted as the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of humanity. Construct Ireland spoke to Adi Roche to find out about the progress so far, and the need for continuing support.
In the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Adi Roche and colleagues in Cork set up the Chernobyl Children’s Project (CCP), with the aim of effecting real change, by harnessing the unique spirit of its volunteers. The charity, which due to the immediacy of the problems in Belarus, has primarily been involved with relief work, is now working to facilitate and develop long-term sustainable community-based solutions to the region. It also provides effective and principled humanitarian assistance while lobbying for the rights of the victims and survivors of the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster.
’It’s an empowerment project, breaking this cycle of despair and helplessness’, Roche stresses. The project has, to date, delivered over €50 million in direct and indirect humanitarian and medical aid to the most affected areas of Belarus, Western Russia and the Ukraine.
Chernobyl: The ongoing disaster
According to Professor Chernousenko, a leading Russian nuclear physicist, ‘the next Chernobyl will be Chernobyl itself’. The disaster in 1986 to the Nuclear Power plant in Chernobyl released only 3% of the radiation contained within the plant. This means that at present there is still 97% of the radiation residing in the crumbling sarcophagus, which is estimated to have approximately 1000m2 of holes, and badly needs repairing. There is a growing fear in the scientific community, Roche stresses, that the building will implode, and wipe out much of the rest of Europe. There are plans however to build a new robotic building on top of the sarcophagus to attempt to contain any possible disaster.
This potential catastrophe is a stark reminder of the damage nuclear fallout could have on our daily lives and the problems the citizens of the Chernobyl region face each day. The health statistics tell a story in themselves.
Belarusian doctors identify the following effects from the Chernobyl disaster on the health of their people:
• 100% increase in the incidence of cancer and leukaemia
• 250% increase in congenital birth deformities
• 1,000% increase in suicide in the contaminated zones
• 2,400% increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer
UNICEF also has assessed the impact of Chernobyl on the health of children in Belarus, and found in:
• 25% increase congenital heart and circulatory diseases
• 38% increase malignant tumours
• 39% increase disorders of the genito-urinary system
• 43% increase disorders of the nervous system and sensory organs
• 43% increase blood circulatory illnesses
• 62% increase disorders of the bone, muscle and connective tissue system
‘For 13 years the project has concentrated on emergency relief, with a hands on approach required. However, they need to be looking at the long term—to give the local people hope for the future. The Belarusian people feel abandoned by the rest of the world.’ – Adi Roche
The CCP has had a policy over the past number of years of seeking and identifying orphanages and institutions that are in dire need of renovations and upgrading under their Long Term Building Programme and to organise their refurbishment with voluntary Irish aid and personnel.
As Emmett Coffey of CCP explains the ‘aim is to substantially improve the quality of the children's built environment, and in the process improve the health, sanitation, and comfort levels which they experience.’
The Zhytkovichy Day Care Centre is the primary provider of social and community services in the region but at present is unable to provide the full range of service due to inadequacies in the building which is in poor structural condition. The timber floors are decayed from wet rot, there are structural cracks in the brickwork of the walls and the windows need refurbishing. The building has no thermal insulation and there is no heating system as the old solid fuel boiler is eroded and obsolete. Total rewiring is required and the general feeling throughout is that it is dark and gloomy with a surfeit of long poorly lit corridors.
According to Adi Roche there is, however, a great potential for restoration and modernisation.
‘Duncan Stewart and the Boylan Brothers put together the plans for the community day care centre’ she states, ‘and these were the first plans that fulfilled the committee’s hopes—the committee, consisting of people from the local community, is known as the Zhytkovichy organisation.’
The building will become a bright, happy and welcoming one, fitting its new use as a Day Care Centre for children. It is proposed to make it part of the local community and remove its isolated feeling. Initially it will accommodate 10 abandoned children and provide facilities such as a gym and activity area for children with physical disabilities. It is also hoped to provide a small clinic and advice centre for teenage mothers and a number of offices to accommodate staff from the Centre. Also proposed is an area for arts and crafts including sewing and carpentry.
The building will open up with a large central room – an interactive space creating both a community and central feel – including a piano, and a dance floor, where the elderly and children can come together. There will be two entrances, with one suitable as the main entrance and the other for the ten resident children as their own private entrance, which will lead into the garden. The latter will be opened up with glass screens, which will accentuate the feeling of light and space, so glaringly missing at present. According to Roche, the project includes aspects designed to encourage independence in adverse conditions. ‘They’re creating an eco-friendly horticultural garden, in spite of the soil damage caused by radiation, and the food grown there will be grown by the children’, she states. ‘The town is a rural community, and the project is aimed towards helping them create the infrastructure for their own sustainable development.’
A summary of rooms and services to be provided include:
A room with facilities for the disabled, for children to play in - ages 7-18
A general workshop for 7-18yr olds
A sewing room
A shop – to sell crafts made at the centre
A shoemaker’s workshop, with facilities for the disabled
An horticultural garden
A temporary shelter for homeless children, sleeping accommodation for ten children at any one time
A pregnant teenagers office/counselling room, one space, to incorporate office
A separate designated room –stimulation room for homeless children who are children of alcoholic and abusive parents – to accommodate ten at a time
A Physio/Gym room with facilities for the disabled – to accommodate ten at a time
An elderly people meeting room – to accommodate 30 at a time
A community room
Two toilets and shower room, with wheelchair access
A small kitchen
The Chernobyl Children's Project is continually seeking volunteers to help with its work across all of its aid programmes, including the Zhytkovichy Day Care Centre project. They need qualified and experienced men and women across all trades, including electricians, plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers and plasterers, and experienced drivers would be welcome additions to the project team. People across the construction industry can provide assistance in many different ways, as Roche stresses. ‘We are looking for companies to put their names to projects’ she says. ‘ We need a database of different expertises in the building industry. We need good building materials, and especially insulation—due to the arctic conditions of -30 in the region during winter.’ On an ongoing basis, nursing staff and other medical professionals (doctors, physiotherapists) willing to assist the children of Chernobyl are badly needed.
Due to the scale of the work in restoring the day care centre, half the job will be carried out in October, and half in 2004. Because of time constraints, workers will be required to work 24 hour shifts. However, according to Roche, they’re flying out ‘top Irish chefs’ to ensure workers will have plenty of energy to work on.
Other ways you can help:
You can organise a fundraising event
You can help fill a truck with humanitarian aid.
€20 would provide vitamins to boost a child’s immune system for 6 onths.
€50 would give a sick child one year’s supply of vital medicines.
€75 would provide hospice care for a terminally-ill child for three months.
€400 would allow a child to travel to Ireland for rest and recuperation holidays.
€1,000 would provide a year’s supply of painkillers for an ‘abandoned babies’ home.
€5,000 would fund the delivery of 20 tonnes of aid to the Chernobyl zone.