Chernobyl Children Project

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Lorna's friends Stassia, Rose and John
Ewas welcome the CCP guests from
Belarus. June 2006

By JANE LOPES
Editor of the Middleboro Gazette
December 21, 2006

(First of three articles on the Chernobyl Children Project, a program that brings children who live in the region where the world's worst nuclear accident occurred to the United States for medical treatment and a month of healthy food and "hugs.")

MIDDLEBORO — Like so many of Lorna Brunelle's life experiences lately, her involvement with the Chernobyl Children Project resulted from a series of coincidences — and from her successful battle with thyroid cancer.

To begin at the end of the story, or at least the latest chapter, the performing arts school director and her close friend, Rose Ewas, are determined to provide children from one of the world's most dangerous places to live with a summer experience that they will not only remember for a lifetime, but one that could extend and enhance their lives.
On Jan. 25, the Burt Wood School of Performing Arts will host an open house where area residents can talk to Patty Doyle, the director of the CCP, and find out why a month in the United States can mean so much to children from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, the areas that continue to be affected by a 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

In August of 2004, Lorna Brunelle saw an HBO documentary on the birth defects and medical conditions that continue to affect "Chernobyl children." Thyroid cancer is so prominent among children that the scar left at the base of the neck after thyroid surgery has become known as the "Chernobyl necklace," according to CCP literature.
Lorna Brunelle had never heard of thyroid cancer.
Two months later she was diagnosed with it.

During her treatment, she heard from Jennifer Vaughn, an old friend from Middleboro who is a New Hampshire TV news anchorwoman, about the Chernobyl Children Project, which was bringing children to the Boston area last summer. Lorna learned that her surgeon at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Dr. Gregory Randolph, was a CCP project volunteer who travels to Russia several times a year. Meanwhile, Dr. Randolph asked Lorna to talk about her thyroid cancer at a Mass. Eye and Ear conference. At the conference, she met Patty Doyle and learned about the program that offers "Chernobyl children" a month-long break from the unhealthy places where they continue to live because their parents are too poor to leave.

"I told Rose (Ewas) about it, and she said "We're going to do it, we're going to host some kids,'" Lorna recalled. Lorna and her husband Roger were unable to serve as host "parents" because Roger's elderly grandmother lives with them, but she and Roger promised to be support parents if Rose, her husband John and daughter Anastasia were willing to to provide primary care.

The children, Alexei (Lyosha in Belarus) and Masha, arrived in June and spent a memorable month in Middleboro, with two weeks' vacation on Martha's Vineyard. They were seven and eight years old, the youngest in the program, and Rose was nervous about being responsible for them, especially since they spoke not a word of English and high school Russian taught in the states is no help with the Belarus dialect. The children were no less apprehensive. Masha was desperately homesick on arrival. By the time the children left, they were pink-cheeked, calling Rose "Mommy," and in love with french fries and Sponge Bob.

Last year, 130 children came to the Boston area, sponsored by host families who raised the $1,500 in air fare and expenses per child with help from their communities and local organizations. They came for medical treatment, and an opportunity to flush some of the toxins from their systems for a month. Happy by-products included the chance to explore a bit of the US and to be, well, "loved up," as Rose put it.

(Next week: the benefits of a summer vacation for "Chernobyl children," and what they give their US friends in return for the opportunity — in other words, "reverse hugs.")
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