It was over 30 years ago, precisely on the 26th April of 1986, 1.23am, when all hell broke out in a nuclear power plant near Chernobyl; a horrifying event which shook the world and is rated as the worst nuclear disaster in history – one of the only two ever rated at 7 – maximum severity – on the International Nuclear Event Scale. This terrible incident, apparently caused by human error, claimed many lives and forever changed thousands. Although more than 30 years have gone by, the consequences are still evident, and always will be. There have been countless cancer deaths caused by Chernobyl amongst the inhabitants of the contaminated areas, and although the nuclear power station was located in north Ukraine, 70% of the radioactive particles ended up in Belarusian territory.
Along the years, many associations sprang up, with the purpose of giving assistance to children surviving in a difficult situation, but also to those born in the years of the aftermath, since the effects of radiation notoriously fall also upon future generations. During these years, 30.000 Belarusians have been given hospitality in countries all over the world, in a quest to improve, even if minimally, the quality of their lives.
The Emilia-Romagna region has always been fore-front in these activities, and Parma in particular stepped up to the cause in November of 1998, when the association “Help for Children” was established, with the intent of continuing a project previously initiated by the city’s “Assistenza Pubblica” (health-care assistance association) and subsequently shelved for various reasons; hosting children from the devastated areas of and around Chernobyl. In January of this year, our local administration was approached by “Help for Children” and offered the opportunity to adhere to what sounded like an excellent project – a twinning between Bedonia and Belarus. It immediately became apparent that there would be many obstacles to overcome, however the offers of collaboration – amongst young people, but also other associations around our territory, were so overwhelming, that there was no doubt of the project becoming reality.
And so it was that 7 Belarusian children – Roman, Artsiom, Vasili, Alexandr, Yahor , Daniil and Daniil (two of them!) set foot for the first time in Bedonia at the beginning of July, for a months holiday. One of the most important reasons for removing these children temporarily from their habitual radioactive environment is to allow their organisms to detoxify, cleansing them of all the contamination they normally live in, and hopefully assuring them a better future. The enormous benefits deriving from a period of detachment has been demonstrated by scientific research – a month breathing our wonderful clean mountain air is a wonderful medicine!
But having said this, the children have had many other benefits whilst staying with us, thanks to all the volunteers who have been looking after them during their stay. They have been whisked off to the local outdoor swimming pool for lessons and hours of fun in the water, they have been on various excursions in interesting places, they were taken to visit the Parmesan Cheese factory, where they were shown how our world famous product is made. Then of course there have been parties, with acrobatic tracks, fun face-painting and inevitable nutella binges! Horse-riding lessons, cinema and pizza evenings, instrument playing and concerts….the list goes on and on, and needless to say, these are all normal activities available to anyone visiting Bedonia and surroundings.
The end of the childrens’ stay is sadly in sight, but the enthusiasm and joy they have brought to our town has affected everyone who has been in contact with them. Thanks to their presence, a sort of “Happy Committee” has formed, made up of all the people who have spent time with the kids, and were touched by their cheerfulness, despite the difficulties they have had to live through. Bedonia would like to make this a yearly appointment for many Belarusian children, but, as always, there is the financial aspect to account for.
So all the associations of our territory, the Tourist Office with all its collaborators, and last but most important our local administration, put their heads together and came up with a great initiative – “La Cena Solidale” a solidarity outdoor dinner held along the central roads of Bedonia, to which the whole population was invited last Friday. A simple but jovial menu was agreed on and served by several restaurants of the town, all for the modest price of €20, part of which went into a fund for the specific purpose of financing other similar experiences. It was an enormous success – the roads of Bedonia were packed with locals and tourists more than happy to do their bit, and the musical entertainment provided later in the evening ensured a merry atmosphere. The icing on the cake was represented by the moment when the President of Bedonia Calcio (our local football team) – Sergio Berni, awarded each of the boys with the team backpack to take home as a souvenir of their stay. Result? 7 happy smiling kids!
We don’t think they will forget Bedonia in a hurry!