Andrew Fitton is known as chairman of Swindon Town Football Club (pictured right with striker Simon Cox).
What isn’t known is that he is a host father and sponsor to children from Belarus through Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline.
In an exclusive for Swindon Link, Ros Fitton describes how her family became involved with the Swindon branch of Chenobyl Children’s Lifeline when they lived in Wiltshire and how she is now setting up a branch in south-west London.
I first heard about CCLL when I was channel flicking on TV and watched a drama The girls who came to stay about how a family coped with hosting children affected by the Chernobyl radiation as a result of the nuclear power station disaster in Belarus over twenty years ago.
My own children were at the age where they could be interested in hosting children so I e-mailed Gin McGiffin (chairperson of the Swindon link of Chernobyl Children’s Life Line) and received a call almost immediately, suggesting she came round and check us out.
Luckily she decided we were suitable and we subsequently hosted two girls the next summer. It was the most rewarding experience for the whole family, even for my 20 year old daughter, who would freely admit that she is not the most caring of people.
Ira and Nastya were 9 and 11 years old and although they had very little English, it soon became very easy to make ourselves understood and vice-versa. We had an incredibly busy and exhausting month as there were lots of group events organised by Swindon CCLL as well as our own family activities. When the girls left for the airport we were all in tears and the house seemed eerily quiet for a long time afterwards.
Pictured right, the Parkhina family at home in Ozarichi with Ira and her sister Yulia who have both been to England.
We all agreed that we would do the same next year and host more children, but before the year was up we had moved house to Richmond where there is no CCLL link. I had just finished a psychology degree and was not working, so the obvious thing to do, with a lot of cajoling from my children, was to set up a link in Richmond.
We hosted again this summer and Ira and her sister Yulia came for a month which was both wonderful and gave me a chance to introduce them to potential families in Richmond who I thought might be interested in helping to set up a local link.
When the girls returned to Belarus earlier this year, I and my 16 year old daughter went with them to spend a week working with Gin in Ozarichi, the village with which Swindon CCLL now has close ties, along with two other members of the Swindon link.
Left, Ira and Nastya, en-famille Fitton
I had some idea of what to expect and some things were better and some were worse. The main thing that struck me was how friendly and welcoming most of the families were and how much some rely on the support of CCLL and also CCIN (Chernobyl Children in Need) in order to carry on with their lives.
Gin is the vice chair of CCIN which concentrates on sustainable projects and humanitarian aid within Belarus. It is a very beautiful country and there are no physical signs of the radiation. You can’t see, touch or smell it – but you are soon aware of its impact on families when told the statistics of how many are treated for cancer, or the number of parents who are drink dependant and therefore cannot provide adequately for their children.
Belarus is a truly communist country and most families work incredibly hard and long hours on collective farms for very little pay.
It was not unusual, when making food drops, to find quite young children at home looking after even younger siblings all day while their parents were working in the fields. The work of CCLL and CCIN has had a huge impact on Ozarichi and Gin is treated with huge respect by the families and the many officials we met because of this.
Right, making a food drop to a needy family. Gin McGiffin, translator Vera, Ellen and Ros Fitton
By chance we went to visit a school in a nearby village that had a very decrepit kitchen and which was hoping that Gin would agree to CCIN assistance. The headmaster whom we christened ‘Big Al’ did not stop smiling from the moment we arrived even though there was very little for him to smile about and I realised this would be a great opportunity to work with the school through CCLL in Richmond as for some reason this school had been overlooked by the authorities.
This gave me an added incentive and on my return from Belarus I began searching for contacts in Richmond – for host families and people to help raise funds to bring children across. It is early days but I am confident that there are people out there who will find the involvement with the charity as rewarding as I have found it and will want to be a part of the link in its formative stages.
Through Andrew’s chairmanship of Swindon Town FC, the club provided an auction prize for Swindon CCLL’s May Ball where over £7,500 was raised. I hope that next summer, amongst other joint activities, host families from Swindon and Richmond will gather at the club where players can meet the Belarussian children.
If you know of anybody in the Richmond area who might like to know more about hosting, please ask them to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Another group of children from Belarus will be coming to Swindon in December. There are currently enough host families, but the need is for money to pay for the flights and people willing to sponsor individual children in Ozarichi. Only £10 will pay for a child’s school lunch for a whole month.
For details mail Gin McGiffin at: email@example.com