Why the Moray welcome mat is so important for Belarus kids

ORGANISERS BEHIND THE ANNUAL month-long visit of children from Belarus who live in an area affected by the Chernobyl disaster have been speaking of the importance of the scheme.

Moray was quick to react to a national call for families to act as hosts for children living in the crisis-hit area, providing them with a period of clean air and stability that was missing in their native Belarus.

The first group of children to arrive in Moray under the scheme was in September 2015 – and since then they have spent an annual month each year with their host families.

It has not, however, just been the families who have taken the children to their hearts, with a number of groups and businesses throughout the region providing support, entertainment and activities that have made the annual stays so enjoyable for the children.

insideMoray caught up with Helen, who organises the programme of events for the children during their stay in Moray, and Olya, who travels to Scotland with the children as their teacher and interpreter.

Speaking at SFEAR’s fitness centre in Lossiemouth, one of the many groups who support activities for the children each year, Helen said: “I answered an appeal for host families at the very beginning, I think I may have been one of the first to do so, and have since had the absolute pleasure of one of them being part of my family each year.

“The bond that has grown between all the children and their Moray families is very strong. It is not just us that welcome them – local schools, businesses and a host of groups have also been very quick to lend a hand, they organise either one-off events or in many cases allow the children to come back each year.”

Asked about the backgrounds of the children Olya explained: “They are not all from the same part of Belarus, so they do not see each other on a regular basis. A few do, but the only time all of them come together is when they gather for the journey to Moray.

“This program is very important to the children, it gives them things that they would not experience at home, it allows them to learn about different cultures and yes, some of them are improving their English as a result of their time in Moray.”

An important and popular activity has been swimming, Olya saying: “The children are not taught to swim in Belarus, they perhaps will jump into the water and teach themselves. So the lessons they receive here are good, it is one of many things they experience.”

Funding is raised throughout the year to help pay for the annual visits, with Helen stressing the vital nature of support coming from every quarter of the community: “We work hard but it is rewarding, to see the difference in the children in our care as they take part in activities that our children take for granted.

“The Friends of Chernobyl’s Children is a charity so every penny we can raise is important. This year marks the third visit of the children to Moray, it is a five-year programme so we will continue to work hard and hope that our communities will continue to support us in these efforts.”

As the children rolled around the mats at SFEAR, it was not difficult to see just why the scheme is of such vital importance. For those who help by providing activities, there are rewards of a very different kind as on volunteer at Morayvia said last week following a visit: “They loved every minute and for us the reward was the massive smiles on their faces.

“That and a few hugs at the end of their visit drew a tear or two – from us, not the children.”

To find out more about the Friends of Chernobyl’s Children in Moray visit them online or call in at their Facebook Page.