Olga Dashkevich, chairwoman of the Children's Joy Association, Minsk, Belarus

"It always goes smoothly"

Olga Dashkevich is the chairwomen of the Children's Joy Association in Minsk. The association was founded in 1989 as the Children of Chernobyl Foundation, but it's purpose remains the same: to arrange holidays for children and youth from the contaminated areas in western countries and to support socially vulnerable people with various projects in Belarus.

Children from Djatlowitschi welcome guests from Switzerland

"700 children and youth will spend a holiday with host families in Germany, Switzerland the Netherlands in 2016. They come from vulnerable families in the heavily radioactive-contaminated areas throughout southern Belarus. Demand today is far greater than what we can offer. Previously, thousands travelled each year throughout Europe but also to Canada, Japan or the United States. Altogether this over 600,000 since the Children of Chernobyl Foundation was founded in 1989, out of which the Children's Joy Association developed. The sharp decline in interest on the part of the host families, but also many of the volunteers who had been involved in the West, could be due to a certain fatigue but also because many think that the situation in Belarus has improved a lot. It's possible to see it this way, and indeed even in Belarus, the issue of Chernobyl has largely disappeared from public debate. The state has contributed to this as it is determined to give the impression that all of the problems resulting from the disaster are now under control. I see it differently – and not only in the most contaminated areas in the country where the children in particular have to cope with numerous health problems. The holiday visits strengthen their immune systems and expand their horizons. This was the already the case in 1989 and it remains so today. The association manages the administrative procedures, from arranging visas in the host countries to obtaining the necessary permits from the Belarusian education ministry. Now that a biometric passport or registered fingerprints are required for a Schengen visa for people ages 12 and up, it has once again become more complicated and much more expensive. The youth have to come expressly to Minsk to the embassies for the fingerprints, and many simply cannot afford the expensive biometric passports. As a result, we are concentrating on children under the age of 12, for whom the procedure is somewhat simpler and fingerprints aren't required. Of course, this procedure also applies to the travelling companions, who happen to work on a volunteer basis just like the volunteers in the host countries. It's a pleasure to see how perfectly everything always comes together, even overcoming the linguistic hurdles. Everyone involved is allowed to be very proud. The Children's Joy Association itself doesn't receive any government funding, and our monthly budget with two full-time employees comes to around 700 euros. Our Western partners pay for our work to obtain the visas and official permits. As for our projects in the country – from the visitor's café for people resettled from the contaminated areas to the youth festival – we continue to depend on sponsors and supporters."