Honoree Spotlight

Adi Roche: Helping the Children of Chernobyl

Adi Roche is one person who hasn’t forgotten about Chernobyl. She simply can’t; the largest nuclear disaster in history affected too many people and continues to destroy too many innocent lives to be put out of her mind.

“I remember when I came back Sunday night of last week [from Chernobyl-affected regions] very late in the evening, and the next day I just felt this extreme sense of loss,” said Adi in an interview with Heyoka Magazine. “And I felt a deep emptiness, profoundly in my heart, but actually very physically in my arms. I kept asking myself what was it about. And I kind of just looked back on 24 hours before that and I was just thinking of a specific child that I had held in my arms that I will never hold again, because that child is in a very final stage of her life.”

On the Ground
Adi Roche – 2010 Health Award

Impact to date:

Raised over $112 million in aid for Chernobyl-affected communities, provided 20,000 children with life-saving heart surgeries, and sent 22,000 children to recuperate in Ireland.


To give support and hope to children living in the aftermath of the Chernobyl meltdown.

Words of Wisdom:

“My heart called me to put what you know in your head connected with your heart and go and do something.”

Adi has been actively aiding the people affected by the Chernobyl disaster since it happened in 1986. During the Cold War, Adi was a peace educator from her home in Ireland, working to start disarmament negotiations between the East and West. Her group advocated re-allocating funds from weapons development to education, food, and water programs. In the middle of these efforts, Chernobyl happened and Adi immediately knew that she had to help.

“As a teacher, I knew the impact of what could happen – the theory of it,” said Adi in an interview at the 2010 World of Childrens Ceremony, “and here all of a sudden was the reality thousands of miles away from our little island.”

Five years later, Adi was volunteering with the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament when she received a fax from doctors in Belarus and Ukraine: “SOS appeal. For god’s sake, help us to get the children out.” This simple but alarming message proved that the effects of Chernobyl were far from over, even though it was 1991 and most of the world had stopped worrying about it. These doctors had seen first-hand that children and adults still suffered the after-effects of living in a radioactive environment. Children were being born with extreme mental and physical disabilities, one of the most common being congenital heart defects – now known as “Chernobyl Heart.”

Moved by this plea for help, Adi took action. She set up a small office in her house and began recruiting local Irish families to host “rest and recuperation” vacations for Ukrainian and Belarusian children sick from radiation, since research has shown that even escaping a toxic environment for two weeks can reduce a child’s contamination levels by 30-50 percent.

Through this first simple, yet heroic, effort, Chernobyl Children International was born.

Over the next 21 years, Adi and Chernobyl Children International grew rapidly to provide aid to thousands of children in the Chernobyl region. Some of their completed projects include opening a hospice, a mental asylum for young adults and children, a Homes of Hope foster program, and a community day care center. They also began going on cardiac missions with volunteer surgical teams, providing free heart surgeries to 30-40 children on each trip.

Since 1991, Chernobyl Children International has airlifted 22,000 children from Belarus to participate in the rest and recuperation program; funded 20,000 cardiac surgeries and flown 300 children to other parts of the world for surgery; paired 250 children with foster homes; and reached 67,000 people at each community day care center in Belarus.

In 2010, Adi was honored for her remarkable commitment to the children affected by Chernobyl with a World of Children Health Award. This year, Adi used a portion of her Award to fund a two-week-long expedition to Kharkiv, Ukraine where 14 cardiac nurses, technicians and surgeons performed heart surgeries, trained local physicians and provided essential medication to patients. By the end of their effort, Adi and her team had saved 40 children from heart failure. (Read our June newsletter for more about the trip and what our supporters funded.)

Adi has lost count of how many times she has journeyed from her home in Ireland to communities affected by the Chernobyl disaster area in Ukraine, Belarus, and Western Russia, but every time she goes she is reminded of why she continues to do what she does: she simply cannot turn away from people who desperately need help.

“The day we cannot shed a tear for another human being or feel an emotion about the suffering or the agony of another human being, no matter what part of the world they are in,” said Adi in her Heyoka Magazine interview, “is the day I think we switch the light off on the planet because we have lost who we are as a species and we have lost our sense of responsibility of being part of the human family.”

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