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‘Absolute joy’ hosting Chernobyl children

A TRILLICK woman said it has been an “absolute joy” to host two young boys from Belarus as part of the Chernobyl Children Appeal.

Every year children from the areas affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster are brought to Ireland on a respite holiday.

In just three weeks this reduces the level of toxins in their body by up to 40 per-cent.

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It was after seeing an advertisement for new host parents while out shopping in Asda that Sandra Armstrong and her family decided they wanted to get involved.

This year 14 children have come to stay with families in the Tyrone and Fermanagh area, with Sandra happily hosting two young boys, Timur and Nikita, from Belarus.

Sandra described heading to Homebase car park to pick the boys up two weeks ago as a “really surreal experience”.

However, she said the time spent with them has been “truly amazing”.

“They had only seen photographs of us so when we arrived they were scanning the crowd looking for us,” explained Sandra. “They were just so trusting, it was lovely.”

The young Belarusian boys come from a very poor area and before this trip, had never been on an aeroplane before. Raised by their grandmothers, the two 14-year-olds attend the same school back home, a comforting thought for Sandra given the language barrier and the vastly different culture the boys were entering into.

But, using a tablet to translate between Russian and English, the family can communicate very easily with the boys.

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A once in a life-time trip for the teenagers, the Trillick woman is making sure they enjoy many exciting activities during a packed itinerary.

The boys have already been jet skiing out on Lough Erne, visited Jenkin Forest in Fivemiletown, Muckross lake in Kesh as well as the police and fire station in Omagh.

Sandra, who works for Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, is also a talented photographer and has been teaching the boys how to use her camera, something which they had never done before. The boys are eager to try new things, and Sandra has noticed their keen interest in agriculture.

Although an eye-opening holiday for the Belarus boys, Sandra said that we can learn a lot from their culture too. Both Timur and Nikita are extremely environmentally conscious and are “genuinely shocked” by the amount of litter they have found.

Sandra said, “They have pointed out rubbish here and even pick it up. They shake their heads and explain this would not happen in Belarus, that it would be frowned upon.”

The explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was one of the world’s worst man-made catastrophes, and with the TV drama ‘Chernobyl’ hitting screens earlier this year, there is certainly a heightened awareness of the on-going impact of the disaster.

“The show has created a lot of interest, with a lot of people asking about the boys,” said Sandra. “They came over with just the clothes on their back and a small rucksack, so we have been dependent on people being generous with clothes, and we’ve had so many offers.”

Sandra said hosting the kids has been “a great learning experience” for everyone in her family and would certainly do it again.

“We’ve had great fun with them… they have been an absolute joy,” she said.

Children from Belarus with Crew Commander Terry Canning, host families and interpreters during a tour around Omagh Fire Station.

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