Twenty-eight years after the worst disaster in the history of nuclear power, the children of Chernobyl have not been forgotten by a North Raleigh church.
Soapstone United Methodist Church has a long-standing mission outreach that helps children who live in communities that were affected by the Chernobyl reactor explosion, fire and subsequent release of radioactive material.
Six children from the town of Mozyr, Belarus, is a community downwind from the reactor, just returned home from a visit to North Carolina that incorporated medical care and a bit of fun. All are special-needs children who live in poverty, many of them in foster homes or orphanages.
Two Soapstone families were among the hosts for the children, and Raleigh pediatrician and church member Dr. Sharon Foster is instrumental in continuing to assist the children of Chernobyl. For more than a decade, her medical practice, Raleigh Pediatrics, has been the hub of donated medical services.
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“All of the medical care is gratis,” Foster says. “They get a full medical evaluation. We address their poor dental health; most of them have many, many cavities. And we have them each set up to see the optometrist and they get glasses if they need it.”
They also spend time with host families who open up their homes and their hearts.
“They go on vacation with the families, and they go to the pool,” Foster says. “These host families just want to give them a nurturing, healthy environment. We take them to church and do anything you would do with your own children.”
Soapstone United Methodist works in concert with an international organization assisting the children of Chernobyl. Through the years the focus of the programs and the policies of the countries have been modified, but the basic idea to assist children in that region goes on.
The children who came to North Carolina this summer were accompanied by Dr. Tatiana Glushtova, a physician from Minsk State Medical University in Belarus. She says there is one very common problem she sees in children living in the area around Chernobyl.
“Now we have problems with thyroid gland function for these kids that live in the area that was affected by the nuclear disaster,” Glushtova says. “They drink that water, they eat the produce grown on the land. This program helps to get kids out of the region and get them a great vacation and great medical support.”
And sometimes the vacation part is as important as the medical part.
“The kids are all very happy and very glad to be here. They are very active here, they play a lot, and I think they have even gained some pounds,” Glushtova says.
Foster has traveled to Belarus to offer her thoughts and her expertise on pediatric care. She says the exchange of ideas between physicians here and physicians there has impacted the care children receive for the better, particularly in the areas of asthma treatment, vaccinations and reflux medicines.
“They have embraced the medical education that has been offered and really have become a beacon of light to the communist world,” Foster says.
And she has been forever touched personally by her work with this mission. Her family hosted a young woman from Belarus on two separate visits and then brought her to this country for a semester when she was 16 to study at St. David’s School.
The young woman, an orphan raised by her grandmother, is now a college graduate and a journalist. Foster recently traveled to Belarus to see her.
“As a result of her fabulous English, doors are open to her because of her experience here in Raleigh,” Foster says. “We call her our Belarussian daughter, and she has made it very clear to my husband when she marries he will walk her down the aisle. It’s a love relationship you develop that transcends all political differences.”
This Sunday is the monthly SHiNE service at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Raleigh. SHiNE is a unique offering for people with disabilities and their families. SHiNE takes place at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in the sanctuary of the church at 7000 Creedmoor Road.
Carla Turchetti compiles Faith in Focus each week. Email her with details of upcoming events at firstname.lastname@example.org.