Everton once again welcomed a group of children from Chernobyl to the Football Club on Monday.
Sixteen youngsters enjoyed a training session at USM Finch Farm, led by Ray Redmond, Academy Recruitment Officer.
It is the 12th year in succession that Everton has worked alongside the Maghull & Ormskirk Chernobyl Group, which arranges the children’s month-long stay on Merseyside.
Back home in the town of Mogilev in Belarus, the children live in areas contaminated with the nuclear fallout from the Chernobyl Disaster in April 1986. But their visit to England adds a full year onto their life expectancy.
It is a long-standing partnership, which is facilitated by Everton’s Head of Academy Recruitment Martin Waldron.
“It goes back 13 years to when I was asked to show a group around the old academy base at Netherton,” he explained. “The following year I put a training session on for the children and provided a gift for each of them. At the end they broke down in tears - it was a touching moment.
“What we also do whilst they are over here is to get the health checks for the children. This week alone, three have been in hospital to have their teeth out - one had 11, one had eight and one had six removed. That shows how poor the health service is over there.
“It’s a shocking fact but it’s true that these visits can extend the children’s life expectancy. At home, they are still eating and drinking contaminated food and water. The fallout won’t clear up for at least 200 years. But coming here and breathing healthy air is going to be beneficial to them.
“During their time with us at Everton, we have had a bit of fun with them, putting on a session with the coaches. One of their highlights is coming here to the training ground, so I’ve got to thank everyone at the Academy - staff, coaches, parents - because they have supported it every year.”
During their time in England, the children stay with host families. They go shopping in Liverpool city centre, visit the seaside at Blackpool and spend time at a nearby school to interact with local children. They also have access to medical facilities, an opportunity which many do not have in their homeland.
Paul Dolan has provided accommodation for one of the boys for the past three years.
“Belarus is one of most deprived countries in Eastern Europe,” he said. “The children can arrive here and in relatively bad health and socially uncertain, but they have such a fantastic time in the four weeks they are here and we try to provide a good family environment for them.
“They come on leaps and bounds and leave happier and healthier. That’s what’s rewarding most of all and we love being part of it.”
In addition, the Club's Academy players and staff, along with the help of friends and parents, have raised well over £100,000 for the Maghull & Ormskirk Chernobyl Group throughout the past decade through charity football tournaments at Finch Farm.
Supported by Barclays Bank, Santander and Frank Bird roofing, two tournaments took place before Christmas, one of which involved former Blues midfielder Leon Osman. These raised £9,000.
To find out more about Monday’s visit, watch the video above.