Back in summer 1994, Glossop’s Linda Walker was at the Manchester Peace Festival, listening to a talk about the plight of children with cancer in Belarus.
Fast forward 19 years, she is head of national charity Chernobyl Children’s Project, who work with the victims of the 1986 nuclear disaster, and has been honoured with an MBE.
Recalling her lightbulb moment, the 60-year-old remembered being so touched by the Irish charity worker Adi Roche, who spoke of the aftermath of the power station accident, she felt compelled to join her on her next trip to the Eastern European country.
Linda, of Fitzalan Street, who has previously campaigned for nuclear disarmament, said: “I was inspired by what they were doing in Ireland, they were doing a wonderful job, but I thought to myself we need to do a lot more for them.”
Within weeks, she was meeting with children who were suffering from effects of the fallout, as well as doctors working in contaminated areas and families whose sons and daughters had been evacuated.
With a view to providing recuperative holidays in Derbyshire, the Chernobyl Children’s Project, based at Kinder House, was born in January 1995.
Six months later, the first group of 38 children arrived at Gatwick Airport came to spend a four week holiday in Glossopdale and Littleborough, Lancashire.
Now, thanks to Linda and her volunteers, there are 25 groups across the country, including one in Buxton and Longnor, whose host families welcome Chernobyl children on exchanges every year.
“Many our families find it rewarding and have been doing it for years,” she explained.
For the Belarus children, many of whom are in remission, she added, trips to the English countryside help boost their immune system and are good for their health and strength.
More than 3,000 children have benefitted from the initiative and Linda’s organisation is now focusing on projects in Belarus.
For more information and how to donate, visit chernobyl-children.org.uk.