Green Cross brings students from Chernobyl-affected areas to IFRC in Geneva

Youths participating in a Green Cross summer camp in Switzerland visited the International Federation of the Red Cross to meet and exchange experiences. Many of the 60 students are from Chernobyl-affected areas in Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, others from the Fukushima region of Japan, and a number are from Italy and Switzerland.

Yasuo Tanaka, Special Advisor for the President’s Office, welcomed the group to IFRC and talked about the importance of connecting people’s experiences across the world.

“We need to motivate people, particularly young people, to know about these types of situations once they happen, and to be prepared for them,” said Tanaka.
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Both Green Cross and Red Cross have carried out projects in places affected by nuclear disasters, in a number of different ways, and experts from both organisations were on hand for the event.

“This is a great opportunity to celebrate the partnership between our organisations, and to explore how to expand our cooperation with practical activities that change lives,” said Adam Koniuszewski, Green Cross International Executive Director. “The mission of Green Cross was inspired by its founder, Mikhail Gorbachev, that questions of security, development and of the environment are inter-dependent and must be addressed together. As ambassadors for Chernobyl and Fukushima you have an important role to play in raising public awareness and understanding. This visit to Geneva, home of the Red Cross and the United Nations has a special significance. You can make a real difference”, he added.

IFRC Nuclear Specialist Martin Krottmayer has worked both in the Chernobyl region and at Fukushima, and was eager to hear from the young visitors about living with the long-term consequences of the disasters there.

“After Fukushima, we realised this is an issue that really needs to be addressed globally,” said Krottmayer. “We work with our colleagues in many countries to learn what the challenges are, and how we can better prepare. We also work with other organisations to convince governments to be better prepared, and to invest more into preventing the long-term consequences of such events.”

Maria Vitagliano, Green Cross International’s Social and Medical Programme Director, explained that bringing this group together was itself a spur to better collaboration.

“It has been 30 years since Chernobyl, and five years since Fukushima, but for these people it is also the present and, unfortunately, will be the future,” said Vitagliano. “And if we give them the opportunity to speak together, to exchange, and to talk about ideas, I think the new generation has the possibility to do better than we have in the past.”

The participants talked about the types of interventions that have become necessary in places recovering from nuclear disasters. Both Green Cross and Red Cross support medical care, including mobile clinics that assess patients and screen for cancer in remote areas.

Tokiko Noguchi, who has worked with Green Cross since 2012, organising mother’s clubs to spread information about dealing with new challenges to daily life around Fukushima, described how those organisations came about.

“Among the mothers who were affected, there was a need for some support – they had anxieties about the implications of the nuclear accident,” she said. “And so it was just three months later, in June 2011, that an association of mothers was created. Since then, with support and assistance from Green Cross, the group has been delivering good practice advice and support.”

Olga Topor spoke about the experience of Belarus – The country most affected by contamination from Chernobyl.

“It was a challenge to change the minds of the population towards those suffering the effects of Chernobyl,” she said. “Children coming from the affected areas, in particular, might be made fun of. We have educational centres, that teach children, but that in turn help spread information to the wider public.”

While in Geneva, the group also visited the United Nations and put on a performance of a play they have been composing since arriving in Geneva. The camp in which they are participating is being held as part of Green Cross’ Social and Medical Care Programme. Together they are also putting together a film documenting their time in Switzerland, and exchanging views on the environment, culture and experiences in their different countries. At a practical level, managing radioactivity in their daily lives, preparing meals, dealing with the effects of radioactivity on the environment and looking at prospects for the future are all themes of this Green Cross youth camp.