The family has welcomed Vika into their Sugarcamp Drive home for five years.
By NANCY TULLIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
EAST PALESTINE -- There will be plenty of tears at Pittsburgh International Airport on Sunday as Children of Chernobyl participants return to their homeland.
Among those returning will be Vika, a 13-year-old girl from Belarus. Among those shedding tears will be members of her host family, Brad and Susan Allison and their children, Melissa, 18; Greg, 16; and Laura, 13. The East Palestine family has welcomed Vika into their Sugarcamp Drive home for five years.
"It is very sad," said Brad of Vika's pending departure. "There will be a lot of tears from everyone."
Brad encouraged anyone considering hosting a child to apply. Applications for next summer are usually accepted in the winter or early spring.
"The medical theory is that being away [from the radiation contamination] regenerates their immune systems," he said. "You have that child for the summer and they are your child, with all the responsibilities. There is a financial commitment, but the experience is well worth it. The whole family learns about another culture and its people. It is a great experience."
Brad said, as usual, the summer with Vika flew by, but the weeks of this year's visit passed more quickly than normal because the children's visit was shortened by two weeks.
Children arrive each year in mid-June and usually stay for eight weeks. Brad said, however, that officials in Belarus want the children home sooner so they can prepare to return to school. When they stay in the United States for eight weeks, they are barely unpacked before school begins, he said.
In five years, Vika has grown, learned more and more English, and bonded with family members, especially Laura. The family has watched her grow physically and intellectually.
"Vika and Laura are definitely sisters now," Brad said. "They do everything like sisters."
Each year Vika celebrates her birthday with the Allisons. This year they had a family party and cookout and went swimming.
Brad said among Vika's new favorite foods are fried chicken and chicken nuggets, hamburgers, bratwurst and kielbasi. She doesn't care much for pizza because she doesn't like cheese, he said.
"She won't eat hot dogs now," he said, laughing. "We cook out on the grill a lot during the summer, and she will eat most of what we cook but not hot dogs. When she first came, because of the language barrier, the only thing we knew for sure she liked was hot dogs, so she ate a lot of them. So now, it's anything but hot dogs."
She also went with the Allisons on a family vacation through Georgia, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
During the tour of Washington, they rode into the city on the subway, spent the day touring the monuments and ended at Arlington National Cemetery.
Brad said the purpose of the program is to give children who live in areas devastated by radiation from the Chernobyl disaster the chance to spend time away from a contaminated environment. He said children are eligible until they finish school in Belarus, usually at age 16.
The Children of Chernobyl, United States Charitable Fund is a nonprofit organization established in 1992 by the Belarusian Charitable Fund in the Republic of Belarus. The charitable fund is a nongovernment agency consisting of more than 5,000 volunteers dedicated to help save the children of their devastated country by providing them with a respite from ongoing exposure to radiation from the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
Heidi Dietz, a host parent who shared about her trip to the site during a Chernobyl 20th anniversary remembrance program in Coitsville in April, said the Chernobyl disaster is the world's worst nuclear power accident. She said 31 people were killed immediately, and thousands more have died since that day from the effects of radiation exposure.
More information is available at www.chernobyl.org, the Web site for the Children of Chernobyl program.