FAMILIES across County Limerick have once again opened their homes and their hearts to those who need it most – a group of children affected by the Chernobyl disaster.
Nine children – ranging in age from seven up to 16 - and an interpreter touched down at Dublin Airport last week to enjoy four weeks of friendship and fun in the fresh air of County Limerick.
Hospital-Herbertstown Friends of Chernobyl have been welcoming children from the orphanages and foster homes of Belarus to the east Limerick area each summer and Christmas time since it was established 17 years ago.
The project is designed to give the youngsters - who come from areas which were devastated by the 1986 nuclear accident – an opportunity to rest and recuperate in the Limerick countryside. Host families are located in areas including Emly, Elton, Hospital, Herbertstown, Lough Gur and Ballyagran.
“It’s the beginning of Christmas for us when we go to pick up Kierill,” said Catriona O’Dea from Elton who has welcomed 11-year-old Kierill Shunski to her home each year since he was seven.
According to Catriona, Kierill is like another son to herself and her husband Eoghan O’Reilly – who have two children John, 9 and Emma, 19 months.
“He comes to Mass with us on Christmas Eve. He is like our son and he is a like a brother to John and Emma. People say that if they are brought out of their home environment it adds up to two years to their life,” she explained.
*See the Limerick Leader weekend edition for a full version of this story