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Nuclear accident's fallout persists 22 years later

Laura Bruer and her Belarusian host child, Nastya, 12, enjoy a moment at the beach. Laura and her husband, Leroy, will host a child through For the World
Laura Bruer and her Belarusian host child, Nastya, 12, enjoy a moment at the beach. Laura and her husband, Leroy, will host a child through For the World's Children for the third time this year. This will be the second time they welcome Nastya into their home for the summer.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

Belarusian children need the assistance of Federal Way residents to temporarily escape long-lasting radiation that spewed across their country after the Chernobyl power plant explosion of 1986.

Nearly 22 years after the world’s worst nuclear blast took place, children in the country of Belarus — southwest of Russia and nestled between Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine in Eastern Europe — are still feeling the effects of the radiation.

A six-week stay in America revives the children’s immune systems and allows them to bounce back from the toxins they are exposed to daily.

For the Children of the World is a nonprofit organization that was established in 1995. It brings Belarusian children to the United States and seeks hosts families to take the children in for a summer stay. Interpreters accompany the group and live nearby. This summer, an interpreter is being hosted near Federal Way. For the Children of the World seeks local residents to welcome children into their homes.

Persistent radiation:

In their homeland, especially in small villages, families live off the land. But buried in the soil is persistent radiation. It seeps into the crops and is present in the grass the livestock feed on.

The children digest the toxins when they consume their meals. Though only small traces exist in the food, it prohibits a healthy rate of growth, said Elizabeth Tennison, president of For the Children of the World. A short break from exposure to the radiation lets children’s bodies function in a more normal fashion, she said.

“It allows their system to flush out damage done by the radiation, to the extent that it can,” Tennison said.

A few weeks in America usually results in much-needed weight gain and growth in the children, she said.

This was the case when Nastya, 8, was first hosted in 2006 by Federal Way residents Laura and Leroy Bruer. The Bruers had learned of For the Children of the World through their kids’ school, Brooklake Christian School in Federal Way. The family had never hosted a child before, but Laura was interested. With two children and a grandson of their own at home, she did not think she was ready to be a host mom. That changed when she learned how much a summer in America could benefit Belarusian children ages 8 to 17.

“I always thought when the time was right, I’d do it,” she said.

The couple chose Nastya to host. Over the summer, the girl gained eight pounds and grew one-and-a-half inches, Bruer said. She spoke no English, but communication was easier than the Bruer family expected.

“You understand a lot more than you ever think you would,” Bruer said.

The next summer, Laura and Leroy hosted another Belarusian girl, also named Nastya. At age 12, she enjoyed adventures and was thrilled to attempt English. She also taught her host family some of her native Russian, such as the word for watermelon. The language barrier made the experience more fun, Bruer said.

This summer, Nastya will spend the long days and warm nights of summer with the Bruers for the second year in a row.

For health’s sake:

Former Federal Way residents Roger and Annette Sturzen will host a Belarusian child for the second time as well. Their host child last year did not speak any English.

“When he got here all he knew was ‘hasta la vista,’” Roger Sturzen said.

But a “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” system for things the boy liked and did not like worked well for the family. This year, the Sturzens hope to teach him more English and other business skills he can use in the future, Sturzen said.

In June, Roger Sturzen will be among the group that escorts the Belarusian children from their hometowns to America.

Ninety-one children are expected to arrive in June. Approximately 30 children still need host families, Tennison said. Host families are expected to treat the children as part of their family. A health inspection is scheduled through For the Children of the World. The families must also agree to take the children to see a dentist.

Dentistry in Belarus is limited, and some of the children have never visited a dentist’s office, Tennison said. The Bruer’s second host child had chipped her front tooth as a young girl. The dentist she saw repaired the tooth, cared for Nastya’s three cavities and did not charge the Bruers for the service, Bruer said.

“They would have to need that basic care pretty darn much for me to send my daughter to another country,” Bruer said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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Check it out:

Approximately 30 Belarusian children still need host families. The deadline to apply to host a child is March 30. The cost to host is $1,000 per child plus living costs and any uncovered dentistry costs.

For more information, visit the For the Children of the World online at http://www.fortheworldschildren.org. Here, visitors can view photographs of Belarusian children who have visited the United States in past years. They can also request a username and password to view the children who still need host families for this summer’s trip. All the children are between the ages of 8 and 17 and hold a visa to travel outside their home country.

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