Seventeen children whose lives have been affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster were once again welcomed to USM Finch Farm as guests of Everton Football Club.
The youngsters from Belarus got to meet Blues left-back Leighton Baines and took part in a training session led by Academy recruitment officer Ray Redmond, as the Club greeted a group from the region for the 14th consecutive year.
The trip to USM Finch Farm is part of a month-long visit the children have in the north west of England, which is organised by the Friends of Chernobyl’s Children (Maghull and Ormskrik) charity.
Back in Belarus, the children live in contaminated areas where nuclear waste fell after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The health and environmental impact of the accident continues today.
The children’s living conditions are so poor in Belarus that their month-long visit to England away from the contaminated air and food adds a year on their life expectancies.
The youngsters stay with host families and enjoy daily activities that meet their social, health and educational needs.
The trip to USM Finch Farm is facilitated by the Blues’ Academy Recruitment Director, Martin Waldron. Speaking to evertontv, he explained just how valuable their stay in England is.
“A lot of the kids live in a village with no name, with toilets in the back garden or a shed, or they haven’t got one,” he said. “There are no cars, it’s horse and cart, and it makes a big difference to them coming here. It’s said that a month here in England, with the fresh air, eating good food, puts a year on their life, which is unbelievable.
“And it’s great having them here at Everton. It’s good to see them enjoying themselves.”
Everton also takes part in fundraising activities for the charity. Each year, Waldron organises the Chernobyl Cup, which raises money for the charity.
The event features eight teams and host of ex-professionals have taken part over the years, including Francis Jeffers, Leon Osman and Jamie Carragher. Each team donates to the charity and takes part in additional fundraising.
“Since we started having the kids over about 14 years ago, we have been regularly raising money,” Waldron explains.
“We must be nearly touching the £200,000 mark, from day one when we started. We have events like a sportsman’s dinner and the Chernobyl Cup at Christmas, which this past year was a tremendous success.
“We used an online BT MyDonate page and we raised just under £15,000 from that. The staff also did a marathon run and the Premier League gave us £5,000 for that, so we’ve done £20,000 this year.”
The importance of the children’s visit to England, meanwhile, was emphasised by Julie Tromp, group coordinator of Friends of Chernobyl Children.
“It’s hugely important for their health, to their wellbeing, their self-confidence,” she said. “It gives them aspirations for the future, gives them an idea that life doesn’t have to be as it is at home.
“And they love coming to Everton, they absolutely love it. They just enjoy running around with a little bit of purpose as well – they’re so good, they actually listen to the coaches and do their utmost to do what they’re being asked. It’s one of the highlights of the four weeks.”