Behind the News Trina Gilchriest, Chernobyl charity volunteer

150 Belarusian children arrived in Ireland last weekend for a holiday. One of their hosts explains what it means to them

Trina Gilchriest and Adi Roche of Chernobyl Children International welcome 11-year-old Maryna Malinouskaya to Ireland. Photograph: Brian Arthur

Trina Gilchriest and Adi Roche of Chernobyl Children International welcome 11-year-old Maryna Malinouskaya to Ireland. Photograph: Brian Arthur


‘The most important thing for these children is to give them an opportunity to spend time away from the highly radiated areas they live in,” says Trina Gilchriest. “One month’s fresh food and air, and clean water, reduces the radiation in their bodies by 30-50 per cent. It takes about two years for the radiation levels to build back up again. By bringing the children to Ireland we are building up their immune systems for the harsh winters back in Belarus. ”

Together with her partner, Peter Rooney, and their four grown-up children, Gilchriest has been taking children from Belarus into their home, in north Co Dublin, for the past five years. “We live on a farm and our children were getting more independent, so we felt we were at the stage that we could offer these children a break.”

Gilchriest was initially taken aback by the administration required before families can take children into their homes. “We had to set up a Chernobyl Children International group in north Dublin, and I became the chairperson. Then each family has to be interviewed by other volunteers, have two references, be accepted by the HSE and the Belarusian authorities, and go through the Garda vetting process every three years.”

Gilchriest took in three girls in 2010 and has had children during summer and some Christmas holidays ever since. “Usually, two children stay in each family, so that they are company for each other. They fall into the normal everyday pattern of family life. It’s about giving them a roof over their heads, food on the table and tender loving care.”

More than 24,000 children have come to Ireland since Adi Roche began the programme, in 1991. Some come from Belarusian orphanages, others from families or foster homes.

Last Sunday 11-year-old Maryna Malinouskaya arrived to stay for a month, having stayed with the family once before, in December. “Maryna has cerebral palsy, and she has lived in the Vesnova orphanage since she was born. She has problems walking and with her speech.”

Gilchriest first met Maryna on a visit to Belarus with the charity. “She caught my attention and stole my heart. But it was daunting as well to consider having her in our home, as we hadn’t dealt with someone with a disability before. But Maryna was so adaptable when she arrived, and she enjoys everything we do with her. It also instills a good charitable nature in our children.”

The family took Maryna on a boat trip from Howth earlier this week. “There are carers and interpreters who travel with the children from Belarus, so we have great support. Really, it’s about offering these children time in a stable family and, for some, a chance to see that they don’t have to stay in their towns and villages when they grow up,” SYLVIA THOMPSON

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