Youngsters from Belarus visited an optician and a dentist in Haywards Heath to receive the health checks that have become a regular part of their annual summer visits to Mid Sussex.
The free eye examinations and glasses were provided by Specsavers in South Road, Haywards Heath while free checks and treatment on teeth were done at The Clinic Dental Facial in Perrymount Road.
One child received a new front tooth, thanking the surgeons with the biggest smile ever.
The 15 children were visiting courtesy of the charity, the Friends of Chernobyl’s Children. The youngsters, aged eight to 12, come every year and stay with host families in the Horsted Keynes and Danehill areas.
FOCC co-ordinator Sheila Nash said: “Although the children really enjoy the adventure of being in a different country, the main purpose of the visit is to improve their health. We aim to bring the children for four to five consecutive years, giving them the chance each summer to breathe clean air and eat healthy food.”
Sheila thanked the private health companies that had helped this year and in previous years.
Back in Belarus the children live in an area which remains contaminated with radiation more than 25 years after the Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster. Additionally, it now suffers added pollution from chemical factories.
Trevor Hoare, store director of Specsavers in Haywards Heath, said: “Regular eye checks are an important part of a healthcare routine and access to eyecare is not available for the children in their home town.
“The radiation they’re subjected to increases the chances of contracting illnesses such as cataracts which would go undetected without an eye examination.”
Although the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident was in 1986, nearly all the food the children eat is grown in contaminated soil while their homes are only miles from the area still deemed too dangerous for humans to inhabit. No one knows how long the levels of radiation in the soil will continue at dangerous levels, nor what the long-term effects will be.
With wages as low as £200 a month, local diets are poor with high consumption of sugar, which is one of the few foods subsidised by the government.
Dental surgeons Sven Sorenson, Mads Nyborg and their colleagues at the Clinic Dental Facial, said most of the children required two fillings each and one boy received a new front tooth.
Sven said: “We first became involved with the charity FOCC Mid Sussex 10 years ago. The first group of children we were introduced to were in poor health. A poor diet and high sugar consumption inevitably affects dental health and the children that we see receive much needed dental treatment.
The dentists said the children also had little or no understanding of good oral hygiene originally, and it was satisfying to see that over the years the work of FOCC Mid Sussex was having a beneficial effect on their health and wellbeing.
Sven added: “We see the children grow in confidence and take pride in their teeth as they come back year after year.”
One example was Sasha. Her teeth were so poor when she came to Mid Sussex for the first time that she needed extensive dental treatment under general anaesthetic. However, this visit, she only needed one filling.
As a parting gift, the children presented Sven and Mads with handmade dolls from Belarus.
The entire trip to Sussex is funded by Mid Sussex FOCC, which spends the subsequent year fund-raising for the next trip. Activities they organise include a camping trip to Blacklands Farm, swimming sessions, horse-riding, picnics and tea parties plus visits to two schools.
For more information and how you can help with FOCC as a host family or with fund-raising, go to the website at www.focc.org.uk