WATCH: Scenes of joy at Dublin Airport as children from Chernobyl arrive
Scenes of joy erupted at Dublin Airport this afternoon as a group of children from Belarus arrived to spend Christmas with their host families.
It’s an annual Christmas tradition that has linked families from across the country with victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster for the past three decades.
Selection boxes were at the ready, and Christmas songs were being sung as the volunteer host families waited to greet the special guests, and a huge cheer went up when they finally came through the arrival gates.
Adi Roche, Volunteer CEO of Chernobyl Children International, the charity that brings the children here for this rest and recuperation programme, described their arrival as a “magical moment.”
She said that for her the message of Christmas was “all about love, and it is about hope and it is about the warmth and love of one another, and reaching out to others to say that ‘you are not forgotten.’ And Ireland has been stalwarts in doing this for the last 32 years, and this year is no exception,” she told Independent.ie.
“I think the volunteer families that are hosting the children this Christmas to me are the unsung heroes and heroines. They are really the embodiment of what Christmas is all about. They are opening their hearts and their homes to these children.
“The children have become like members of the Irish volunteer families, and I think they are just extraordinary people. They are the embodiment of the best of Irish,” said Ms Roche.
The preparations for the children to arrive has taken place weeks in advance. “We had a medical volunteer team out there last week, helping to prepare them. This is what they are sleeping, eating and breathing for, is coming to their Irish mamas and papas.”
There were a few surprises today too, in relation to two of the children who had outgrown their wheelchairs, which the charity had bought for them many years ago. “We have raised the funds again for some new wheelchairs,” Ms Roche revealed.
Among those who were waiting at the airport today was hosts Damien Meaney (39) from Bray, Co Wicklow, and he said it will be his family’s 18th year hosting the kids from Belarus.
“My parents Kathleen and Dave started it, and the whole family has been involved. We have four coming this Christmas. They stay for two weeks, and we look after them and they meet their friends. They are a part of the community, they have a great time.
“I think it is something very special. You can’t describe it what it means, to see them so happy and excited, that is what it’s all about,” said Mr Meaney.
“It is a happy time for everybody. It is hard to put into words what it means to me and the family, but it is very special,” he said.
Another host Trina Rooney from Oldtown, Co Dublin was thrilled when Maryna Malinovskaya (15) finally touched down, one of the 40-strong group of children. “It’s absolutely fantastic. You are sort of holding back happy tears,” she said.
“She has been coming to our family for the past six years, and she has been with us in the summer as well. Maryna is part of our family now.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to work with the kids, and we just feel so lucky to be able to do it,” she said.
The children, many of whom suffer from genetic disorders and congenital disabilities, come from some of the areas worst affected by radiation fallout from the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.
They will spend two weeks with volunteer host families from nine counties who have opened their homes.
Tomorrow, in recognition of the work of the charity’s volunteers, President Michael D Higgins will welcome a group of the children and their host families to the Áras for special Christmas celebration.
“We cannot express how grateful we are to President Higgins for welcoming the children and their host families to Aras an Uachtarain,” Ms Roche said.