Why I’m Volunteering for Chornobyl

There are many great and worthy causes out there in the world.  Ending hunger, finding a cure for cancer, preserving our environment – these are all great causes.  And personally, I hope that we do end world hunger, and that we do find a cure for cancer, and that we as a people can learn to stop trashing this planet.

But see, I am Ukrainian.  I care very much about the culture of my ancestors.  I am deeply upset by the injustice suffered by Ukrainians under Soviet reign, and I think there is not a better symbol of the Soviets’ cruelty than the fallout (both literal and figurative) from the explosion at the Chornobyl Power Plant on April 26, 1986.

I will spare a history lesson, or details on the aftermath.  For that, you can visit here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster – and you should.

What makes me SO upset is that people in Ukraine – mainly children – who need ongoing treatment are not getting it.  Why?  Because the government can’t supply it for free, nor can the children’s parents pay for it out of pocket.  For life saving procedures to get performed, the time, effort and manpower simply must be donated.

If this kind of accident had occurred in this country, I mean, even if somehow with our technology that much radiation had accidentally gotten into the air after an explosion of that magnitude, we would have had the technology to prepare our cleanup crew workers and firefighters.  People from the surrounding areas would be evacuated faster.  Better care would be given.  Better on-going care would be given.  Funds and foundations for the treatment of victims would be set up.  Look at Katrina (ok, maybe don’t look at Katrina).  Look at the help we are sending to Haiti.

Chornobyl simply would not have happened here the way it happened there, if it had happened at all.

And who knows how long it will take before all children are born 100% healthy.  Before radiated land is deemed fit to be inhabited again.  Before the old reactor is demolished in a carefully controlled way and completely entombed in a proper sarcophagus.

My children – my students – know what cancer is, and they know that there are hungry people in the world, and they know that we should recycle. But every time, I have to explain what Chornobyl is, and what the consequences are.

The radiation released by that accident will be around long after everyone on the planet is fat and satiated, after cancer goes the way of polio, after we’ve saved all the rainforests and learned how to sort and recycle every material in existence. Long after my children explain Chornobyl to their children.

I am volunteering not just to help make better the lives of little Ukrainian children I’ve never met, but to spread awareness.  Chornobyl is still happening in Ukraine.  Chornobyl can happen here, too. Our children need to learn, and we all need to do what we can for the children already suffering.

And sometimes I wonder to myself, with a slight adjustment of events, I could have been a kindergartner in a Ukrainian school, not an American one.  I could have grown up to have thyroid cancer.  Or given birth to a baby who’d need heart surgery before she was a toddler.  I’d be the one relying on the volunteer efforts of strangers from half a globe away.  It could be me.  Or my friends or family.  It could be my child.

So what am I doing exactly?  Nothing glorious.  I am volunteering with Chernobyl Children’s Project, International, on one of their cardiac missions to Kharkiv, Ukraine (located in the Eastern part of the country).  While doctors and nurses will be traveling there to perform heart surgeries on infants, I will be taking pictures of the children and writing their stories.  It is hard to compel someone to donate money to a cause they’ve never really heard of, to benefit people they will never meet.  But when faces are put to names, it will hopefully inspire even those least charitable to support this worthy cause.