Outwood Academy Easingwold Provides Base For Friends Of Chernobyl’s Children Visit

A secondary school in Easingwold has been the base for a national charity that works with those affected by the Chernobyl disaster.

Friends of Chernobyl’s Children (FOCC) is a registered charity that funds and organises annual visits for Belarusian children from disadvantaged social backgrounds to the UK. 

The children the charity helps often live in poverty, with little money for food, heating or essential medication. Their homes frequently lack the services that we take for granted such as running water, or even separate bedrooms for the children. It is not uncommon for them to routinely share a bed, or sometimes even just a couch, with several of their siblings. 

The charity works through a network of regional groups, all of which host groups of children when they come over from Belarus. 

Working with the Easingwold group, Outwood Academy Easingwold served as a base for the group for a week.

Laura Eddery, Principal at Outwood Academy Easingwold, said: “We were delighted to welcome the Friends of Chernobyl’s Children’s Easingwold group, and the amazing children, to the academy.

“The charity does absolutely brilliant work, and we were just happy to help where we could. Not only by providing a base for the children to gather both before and after their day activities, but some of our staff and students are also host families for the children.”

The host families provide a home and stable environment for the children, some of whom are as young as seven, for the duration of their visit.

Each group of children who travel to the UK also do so with two interpreters and during the week the children spend school time with their group and the interpreters, which allows the host families to carry on with normal weekly life. 

Ahead of the visit, the children are given a full activity programme of the events that are arranged ahead of the visit. This normally includes school lessons, English lessons, swimming and other sports, a visit to the optician and dentist, and lots of other fun recreational activities and trips.

Kirsty Fulford, who teaches at Outwood Academy Easingwold and is also active within the Easingwold FOCC group, said: “Since the recent TV drama series based around the disaster, and the documentary The Real Chernobyl, there has been a real spike in interest regarding what happened at Chernobyl.

“We have used this increase in interest, and the visit from the fantastic FOCC children, to educate our students about the disaster. We have used our Vertical Mentoring Group time to discuss and learn about what happened. There are a number of students in school, who either currently host a Belarusian child or have done in the past.

“To have the school as a base is wonderful, not only from a practical point of view but also because every year the Belarusian children and their interpreters are made to feel so welcome here. The children who visit, come five years in a row, so they come to regard school as a home from home. Speaking as a host mum of one of the children and also the person who puts the programme together, we just couldn’t do this without the generosity of so many people in the local community.”

The charity is also active once then children return from their trip to the UK. Once the children have returned to Belarus, FOCC also donates a twelve-month supply of vitamins and any essential medicines, clothes and food for both the children and their families in order to maintain the benefits of their visit throughout the year. 

Louise Hudson, who coordinates the  FOCC Easingwold Group, said: “Hosting the children and interpreters is both challenging rewarding for the participating families; however it would be impossible for the families to entertain the children 24/7 for 4 weeks. Without a safe, central base these visits would be impossible to organise. 

“The facility that Outwood Academy Easingwold provide to the group is a key enabler of the visit. The children can be dropped off Monday to Friday first thing in the morning and then collected at the end of the afternoon;  they can relax before and after trips; and they have the comfort of kitchen and bathroom facilities. On top of that they get to experience the atmosphere in a busy, active school, which can only serve to inspire.

“As much as the children gain in health from being away from the contaminated environment where they live - and this is of course the main purpose of the visits, they do also gain in the same way that any cultural exchange benefits children. 

“We all hope that some of the Belarusian children will be motivated to work hard in their own schools and achieve success. Indeed some of the children who have been on the programme which has been running for 25 years, are now teachers and interpreters for the charity.”