Blow Your Mind
I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect when we invited an 8-year-old Belarusian girl to stay with us for a month. We thought about the usual things like beds, food etc but we did not really understand the scale of the cultural differences. Yes we worried a bit about the language barrier. None of us spoke Russian and Tonya had very special dietary needs due to a minor medical condition.
In reality, any cultural differences were not an issue. On arrival, Tonya threw her arms around all of us – me included (which put us all at our ease instantly). She was lovely, very well behaved and clearly extremely well brought up. At first, she did not appear to want to learn English but as time went by she picked up many words (“Barbie” being one of her first). We learnt some Russian words too. Sign language was both embarrassing and hilarious – and a great icebreaker! Our three children and Tonya made a great effort and they all got on very well, helped enormously by our eldest daughter’s very generous nature.
We threw a “Play Date” party for all the kids and their families in the first week. It was lovely to see the children playing in the sunshine. We got to know everyone better and we were extremely grateful for all the help the other families gave us.
Tonya’s diet was essentially fat free, which quickly made us all very healthy, with porridge for breakfast, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and a banished biscuit tin. Fish and chicken were all very popular staples and the simplicity of the meals reminded me of old English fare. We got it wrong a few times but nothing that baked beans on toast couldn’t put right.
Friends of Chernobyl’s Children had put together a wonderful programme of activities for the children in the week. Going out with Tonya at weekends was great fun. Although Chessington, and the London Eye were all very enjoyable, it was the London Aquarium that captivated Tonya. She adored seeing the fish and other sea life and was fascinated by them. This was only surpassed by Tonya’s discovery of ice cubes in her drink at a restaurant – obviously the first time she had ever seen this. Her face lit up the entire room as she popped them in her mouth and played with them in the glass. Other things she really enjoyed were trips to our local swimming pool, long showers and flushing the toilet. How much we take for granted.
I don’t think we will ever really understand the scale of the hardship so many families in Belarus are facing right now. And if I’m honest part of me is not sure we could handle it but what can we do? Yes we can give money. Very important for Friends of Chernobyl’s Children – and it is good to know ALL of it goes to the Children, NOT on administration. But if you really want to make a difference – invite one of the children to stay. It will blow their minds and yours. An experience you and your family will never forget.
Thank you Tonya and FOCC.
Duncan and Beverley Richardson