One day my son Oreg came home looking depressed. He said that he wasn't allowed inside his friend’s home. Why? "Because you have leukemia", they told him.
"An illness caused by radiation is contagions", said the people. After the tragic accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, false rumors sprang up without evident information or knowledge. We can not see, smell, or touch radioactive waves which cause the illness. It may be that such vague causes bewilder the people which lead them to believe in something uncertain.
Oreg's place in society rapidly began to close in. Although he was small compared to others in his class, he was made to sit in the very back. Even the teacher did not want an ill person sitting near him.
I often wonder whether my child can keep living his usual life while he is pushed away from others to the shadowed corner of the classroom and society. I feel myself fill up with worries whenever Ｉthink about his future.
The waiting room of the hospital we regularly went to soon became a place for mothers to confess their concerns of their child's future. We all had to do something for our child. What was most needed was a place to stay like a kindergarten or an elementary school where children trembling of radiation caused illness can feel safe.
My idea may have come from my experience of working as a teacher. If matters are left alone, soon Oreg will lose his place in society. My strong thoughts and determination made my visions become a possible reality in the future.
One day I said to my husband Stephan with confidence that he would agree, ”I want to build a workshop.” I knew he would support me because he understood the necessity of it, and I had a feeling he was planning on doing the same thing as me.
At that time Stephan did not imagine that he would sacrifice his job to take part in this project.
However I think this was definitely necessary. I was able to teach sewing for the girls, but there was nothing I could teach for the boys to work. There was a need for someone who could teach the boys woodworking, and the only person who had the skills was Stephan.
There would be no meaning if he felt uncertain about becoming involved in this project. A strong feeling of determination and quick action were required to take part.
After a lot of thought Stephan ultimately quit his beloved job in a construction company. At the same time, he found a vacant building we could use for free. He and Oreg worked together and reformed the building which was once used as a kindergarten into an impressive workshop.
The workshop was named Hope 21 which represented our aim to strive for a new generation full of hope.
Soon after it was built, children who suffered the Chernobyl accident gradually began to gather at our new place. The workshop became a motivation and a place to go outside for the young who often locked themselves inside their houses or rooms. It was a place to communicate with similar people rather than a place to work.
Before work started they would always be chatting about various topics such as last night’s T-V shows, and some would gather in the corner secretly telling each other’s crush. If left alone, there would never be an ending to the conversations, so I had to make it stop. I felt bad when I said, “OK that’s enough of chatting, let’s get on with work,” because I always saw Oreg who overcame leukemia enjoying talking with his friends.
Oreg was a very artistic boy. His talent was especially revealed in his paintings and drawings. After graduating vocational school, Oreg began to take charge and lead the people working at the workshop. The people looked up to Oreg like a brother, and Oreg answerd to their expectations with his skills and talents.
A place where someone needs you. A place where you can experience and realize the happiness of cooperating with others. After experiencing the pain of becoming an outsider to society, Oreg was the one who hoped for a place like the workshop more than anyone else. This place became like a school where children could connect with other children of the same age.
The following days were filled with much joy that we did not notice Oreg’s continuous coughs until late. The accident at the Chernobyl I nuclear power plant left not only leukemia but also another illness in Oreg’s body.
It was thyroid carcinoma.
His coughs that never stopped signaled that it had already spread to his lungs.
Oreg spent his 20th birthday which became his last in the bed of the hospital he stayed in Germany. His doctor asked if there was anything he wanted for his birthday.
“I want to see my girlfriend”, was what he wished for. His wish was granted, and what is left in my hands is a beautiful picture of the two smiling with a dazzling setting sun in the background. The picture was filled with happiness of their valuable time they spent together.
At this point, Oreg knew everything and accepted it while continuing to hold hope for living. It seemed as if he was ready when he said, ”when I overcome this and if I ever get to leave this hospital, I have a feeling that I will live with a completely different view and feeling than before.”
And then the time came.
We were by his bed watching over him with worried eyes. As if he was trying to calm us down, Oreg started talking to us.
“We’re like the shell of a walnut.”
“We’re as strong as the shell of a walnut. We are one. So whatever happens we will always be together.”
It was during February in Belarus when the clouds were low and a light gray. Oreg passed away leaving those words behind.
Even though he told us our bond was strong like a walnut, I grieved over his loss, and I felt as though there was a hole in my heart. There was something missing. It was hard to go home from work because everytime I was at home it hurt to realize Oreg’s absence. Even after the time came for work to stop, I stayed at the workshop and continued working. Although I couldn't make any progress because my tears blurred my vision.
This was the first time the workshop I made for Oreg, Hope 21, became a place necessary for us to live. It was the same for the thirty or more staff which worked at Hope 21.
Oreg’s death was a tragic news to the staff members who looked up to Oreg as their brother. I couldn’t show any expression that might worry the staff, but surprisingly that feeling helped me to stand strong.
I thought it was only possible to support myself, but I was still able to support my surrounding staffs. During the everyday talk with others, I found myself laughing. Every time I realized this, I could tell I was taking one step closer to recovery.
When sale were low and it became hard to run the workshop, the staff who hoped for the workshop to continue said, ”We don’t need any pay.” I made desperate efforts to pull myself back together from corrupting, while I was supported by their determination to live.
He isn’t visible to us, but Oreg is everywhere helping us out. For example, the luck of being able to gain a connection to Japan. I strongly feel that this was possible from Oreg’s existence and character.
Two years had passed since Oreg’s death when one day a staff who came from an organization called Assistance Movement to Chernobyl in Kyusyu (Chernobyl Medical Support Network) ,which worked on detecting thyroid carcinoma in its early stages, came along to our workshop. Apparently they came here with some little information that there was a workshop where people who had surgery on their thyroid glands could work. As they questioned and interviewed us, they were very shocked to find out that we lost our son against thyroid carcinoma.
From the day on, everytime the organization came to visit us at the workshop, they brought people from Japan and payed us in advance upon regularly buying our products made at the workshop. Before they began to buy our products, they were only sold within Belarus and its marketplace, so our connection between Japan became a huge support to us and the workshop.
Though Japan became a closer existence and place to us than before I was still very surprised, when I was told, ”It would be great if you could come to Japan and talk to the people there of your past experiences.”
I never even thought of traveling to Japan. What was I supposed to say to people in Japan? The more I thought, the more I got lost, but then they told me, “If you don’t mind, we would also like you to talk about your son, Oreg.” All the memories of the past I never had time to look back at in my head came running by before my eyes.
That’s what I should talk about. Everything started off from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident. The grief of our beloved son’s death will not diminish, but I am very proud of ourselves who supported each and everyone of us to establish this workshop until today. When I made up my mind to go to Japan and looked at Oreg’s picture, it seemed as though he smiled at me and said, ”Just be confident and tell them your story.”