Gratitude for Chernobyl Children International

It’s Thanksgiving time. And I am going to say it simply: I am grateful for Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International in Cork, Ireland.

Since 1991, the nonprofit Adi founded in Ireland has delivered more than 90 million euros in direct and indirect humanitarian aid to the Chernobyl area.

The nonprofit funds teams of surgeons and nurses to perform life-saving operations and provide medical training in Belarus, Northern Ukraine and Western Russia; provide therapeutic care; give recuperative holidays in Ireland for about 15,000 children; and fund a construction program to build permanent homes for seriously disabled and ill children and teenagers who are often left abandoned in orphanages or mental asylums, among other things.

I had the honor of meeting Adi last year, after covering the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 that has left the region permanently contaminated.

There is an unforgettable light in this woman who has made CCI an accredited UN international nonprofit. Congress awarded it special recognition status in 2006 for its outstanding humanitarian work. All of the proceeds from the rock band U2’s song, “The Sweetest Thing,” go towards CCI.

Just recently, Adi announced that CCI will move 12 physically and mentally disabled young women out of the Vesnova children’s mental institution and into a home of they call their own, “a home where they will live independently for the first time!” Adi says recently.

In 2008 CCI opened an independent living apartment terrace for 10 physically and intellectually disabled young men from Vesnova -- the first of its kind in Belarus. The women are headed to homes in this building.

To get a feel for what Adi’s organization does, here’s Adi in her own words:

“I will never forget the day I first visited the Vesnova children’s mental asylum.

“It was a prison-like building at the end of a long road.  A grim faced guard unlocked a metal gate on the grounds pointed me to the dilapidated building.

As I entered the building, my nostrils were filled with an overpowering smell of human waste, and it was a struggle to continue forward. Behind the locked doors of the units, I found children bound in strait jackets, and others tied to radiators. Many clearly suffered from malnutrition, and had mouths full of rotten teeth. Children lying in their own urine and feces, with flies dancing over their lips, moaned softly as I pulled back their ragged bedclothes. Many were covered in scabies or had festering bedsores. “The more mobile children were kept locked in cell like rooms. I remember what we came to call the ‘mattress room’ -- 10 empty eyed children rocking and humming and picking at each other’s skin. Most of the children had shaved heads and I could not tell the boys from the girls.

"Leaving the asylum, I saw the cemetery and row after row of small graves marked by numbers. I realized that for many of the children who came down the long road to Vesnova, a coffin and an unmarked grave would by their only way out.

“Later I learned that survivors would, at the age of 18, be transferred to an adult asylum -- a mixture of a prison and an ‘old folks home’ where they would live out the rest of their days isolated from society. Sadly, this is the fate for many mentally and physically disabled people around the world."

But Adi’s CCI is moving to prevent that, to get these human beings a home of their own. For good. Which is why I’m grateful for CCI.