Is there anything more pure, innocent and soul-lifting than a child's smile? This week SUR met Andrei Kuzmichou and his temporary foster mother, Narcisa Grumezescu. The eight-year-old is one of 17 children who have come to Malaga thanks to La Sonrisa de un Niño (the smile of a child) association, to spend two months away from their towns and villages which are affected by radiation from Chernobyl.
The association has been working tirelessly since 1996 to improve the quality of life of these children who live in areas close to the scene of the nuclear explosion in 1986. The vice-president, Almudena Armendia, says some people see these trips as "cruel" because the children have to return home, but it has been shown that after spending two months of the year away from the radiation these children's life expectancy increases by a year.
"Many of them don't know how to use a mobile phone or what a tablet is. Everything is new and exciting for them," said Almudena. This year 16 families are looking after the boys and girls, some of whom have come for the first time to discover another way of life.
Andrei and Narcisa
Andrei's foster mother Narcisa is Romanian, but has lived in Malaga for nearly 20 years. This 44-year-old spent half of her life in Transylvania, about 1,000 kilometres from the area affected by the nuclear explosion. When she heard about 'La sonrisa de un niño' last year, she went along to meetings to find out more. A few months later, accompanied by her husband and feeling nervous but excited, Narcisa met Andrei for the first time, and was overwhelmed by his huge smile.
"I was the same age as Andrei when Chernobyl happened, and was also affected by radiation. I had to take an iodine tablet every day until I was 14," says Narcisa, frowning as she remembers the damage caused to so many children.
The youngsters who come to Malaga are in constant contact with their families while they are here. "Andrei's mother has bought a mobile phone and we have videochats with them. This morning we showed them our house," she says.
The children's radiation levels are measured when they leave home and when they return, and the difference is considerable. As they eat different foods while they are here, their dermatitis clears up and they put on weight.
After 23 years it is obvious that nothing can be compared to a child's smile, and their affection, gratitude and improvement in health are things that no money could buy.