Trip helps Belarus children

BEHIND their beaming smiles lies a deadly disease.

But these brave children of Chernobyl were handpicked to come over to Swindon for a respite visit that will incredibly add two years onto their life expectancy.

They are all from Belarus and live just 30 miles from the exclusion zone there - meaning practically all the food they eat is contaminated and none of them has a life expectancy longer than 40.

But for the short while they were in Swindon, there were smiles all round as the children, aged between 9 and 14, got to visit their first ever zoo.

Vice-president of the Rotary Club of Swindon Thamesdown Bob Barrett said: "The smiles on those children's faces made everything worth it - it was priceless.

"They had never been to a zoo before so we organised the trip to the Cotswold Wildlife Park.

"We managed to get a special session where we would feed the penguins and they went mad for it.

"These children are from very, very poor backgrounds and the month they spend here in Swindon lengthens their lives by at least two years.

"They are such a great bunch of children."

After the visit to the zoo, the children were then taken to a special party at the Supermarine sports club in South Marston, where they played with children from the STEPS project - a programme for 10-18-year-olds who had raised money to help fund the trip.

The rotary club has been involved in helping children from Chernobyl for the past four years and each time they arrange a trip and a party to make the visit one to remember.

Each year, a different group of children are selected from the country and brought over to Swindon for the invaluable respite.

The rotary club is now in the process of applying for a grant that will enable them to buy a bus to take children in Belarus to the hospital appointments they need every week.

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