Care has no barrier
Vicki Farthing, 38, is the newly-appointed vice chair of Chernobyl Children’s Life Line Swindon Link. She lives in Greenmeadow with husband Steve and daughter Teri.
VICKI Farthing’s life was changed forever by a near-fatal car crash, but she refuses to let that prevent her from helping others.
On the afternoon of Sunday, March 31, 2002, Vicki, her husband and toddler daughter drove home from an idyllic day at Cotswold Wildlife Park.
“The back suspension collapsed and the car rolled. I was thrown partly through the back window and when we stopped the car was on top of me.
“Steve broke his shoulder. Teri had a small cut and put her hands in stinging nettles as she was being lifted out of the car.
“I broke my spine, had internal bleeding and was not supposed to make it through the night. I did thanks to the staff at the John Radcliffe Hospital [in Oxford]. They did an amazing job but then I developed MRSA.
“I spent three weeks in hospital and came out disabled and with a huge, gaping wound.”
Steve, a former Royal Mail worker, is now her carer, and Teri won a Pride of Swindon Award in 2011 for the help she gave her mum during Vicki’s progress from wheelchair to walking frame. She still walks with a stick.
The family hosted two children for Chernobyl Children’s Life Line during the summer, and Vicki also volunteers at the charity’s shop in Victoria Road. Her new role as vice chair means she assists recently-appointed chair Susan Webb.
Susan’s predecessor, Lynette Corengia, has stepped down from the lead role after eight years to concentrate on the shop.
Vicki said of Lynette: “She works really hard, and how she’s done this on her own I don’t know, especially keeping the shop going as well. It’s brilliant that she’s still going to be involved.”
The explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union at the time, happened at 1.23am on April 26, 1986. The area should be safe once more for human habitation by about the year 22,000.
A shattered local economy forces thousands of people to remain in the surrounding communities rather than move away, and the ever-present radiation is so bad for children’s health that doctors say the respite visits offered by Life Line add as much as five years to their lives.
Founded in 1991, Chernobyl Children’s Life Line brings parties of children from the region to Britain, where they stay for a month with host families. Each branch of the charity is called a Link, and this summer the Swindon Link, formerly known as the Old Town Link, brought 18 boys and girls.
Activities during their stay ranged from day trips to the seaside and Cotswold Water Park to vital dental and opticians’ appointments.
Although Vicki is a fairly recent addition to the roster of volunteers with Chernobyl Children’s Life Line, she’s been aware of the charity for much longer.
“It goes right back to when I lived in Stroud. I saw a documentary about the first year that children had been brought over. As a kid I’d lived in Somerset near the Hinkley point power station and when Chernobyl happened I remember everybody asking, ‘Could it happen here?’ “So when I saw this documentary in 1992 I wanted to get involved, but i lived with my mum and didn’t have a house of my own.
“In January of this year Steve saw on Facebook that the charity was looking for host families. He said, ‘You wanted to do it so let’s give it a go’. I phoned Lynette and it sort of snowballed.”
Being a host during the summer made Vicki even more committed to the charity.
“One of the children we had was from an incredibly poor background. Her parents split up and her mum is a hairdresser – that’s the only income. Her dad still lives there but because they’ve split up she shares a single bed with her mum. There’s nowhere else for her to sleep.
“On her nails she had ridges and flakes from calcium deficiency, and she had bruises on her legs from some sort of vitamin deficiency.
“They just can’t afford to pay for fruit and veg, and even if they did it would be full of radiation. Everything over there is full of radiation.
“When she came over here she was grateful for everything. One thing that sticks in my head is that she was one of four girls who had birthdays and we organised a party for them. Most kids in this country know exactly what a birthday cake is and why you put candles in them, but they didn’t and I had to explain.
“My mother-in-law brought them a little locket each to take home, only a little going away present, but to them it meant so much.
“The other girl who stayed with us – her brother has a problem with his heart and lungs, but people don’t realise that there’s no health care system over there. You have to pay for it, and they’re waiting for Mum to get the money. She’s a nurse.”
The charity welcomes donations, volunteers and inquiries from potential host families.
“People can help by donating to the shop, we take pretty much everything except electrical items and videos. They can also donate money. We also need volunteers for the shop.”
Visit www.ccll.org.uk/swindon or call 07905 268022 for details.
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