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~ ~ With every Harry Potter book J.K. Rowling has enchanted the lives of millions of people of all ages all over the world. But the magic doesn’t stop with the stories. Today at Pottermore HQ, we’re celebrating the author’s other great venture – her non-profit organisation, Lumos. Named after the spell in the Harry Potter books that brings light, Lumos has been making a huge difference to the lives of some of the world’s most disadvantaged children, living in orphanages. Georgette Mulheir, the Chief Executive of Lumos, joins me now, here at the Pottermore office, to shed some light on all the good work the charity have achieved so far, and how you can get involved with the cause. Welcome, George. Now, firstly, tell me why does Lumos exist? How did it all start? In 2004, J.K. Rowling saw a picture, on the front of the Sunday Times newspaper, that I think changed her life forever and certainly changed the lives of millions of children. It was a picture of a young boy, in a caged bed, in an institution in the Czech Republic, and I think she was so shocked to see that, in this modern day, there are still children living in these horrific institutions. So she decided she had to do something about it, and within a year Lumos had been born. And we have been working over the last decade or so to change the lives of children around the world. Wow, that’s wonderful. Now, most people would think that the alternative to an orphanage is a child being on the street. So explain to me why an orphanage isn’t necessarily a better option for children? We do have a problem in terms of people’s understanding because you hear the word orphanage and you think two things – firstly, you think they’re full of orphans, and secondly, you think that it’s a good thing, that it’s a caring environment for children. Well, across the world, there’s somewhere around 8 million children living in orphanages, and yet more than 80% of them have at least one living parent. They are not there because they’ve been orphaned, but they’re there largely because their families are poor, or the children have a disability, or they’ve come from another discriminated community, and they don’t have access to basic support and services that make it possible for families to care for their own children. So our experience in many countries has been that most parents want their children, love their children, but feel they have no option but to give them up to the orphanage – if they need education, or healthcare, or simply if they need food and shelter. And yet it is a much better thing to do, and we know this from experience as well, to provide those services in the community to support parents so they can look after their own children. The other thing that’s important to understand is that whilst orphanages are set up, usually, with very good intentions, in fact there’s 80 years of research evidence that shows that separating children from their families, and raising them in an institutional environment, harms their health and development. Simply put, an orphanage cannot replace that love, and individual care and stimulation and protection that a child gets in a family. And we see this particularly with babies, and particularly with children with disabilities – they suffer much greater harm by being institutionalised, and research over the last fifteen years looking at the brain development of babies has actually shown that if you separate a baby from their family and raise them in an orphanage, we will actually harm their brain development, and we will make it very difficult for them to develop normally for the future. That’s terrible, I’m just thinking about the parents, and them feeling forced to make that decision to give their child up to go to an orphanage because they feel themselves they can't provide for them properly. I mean it sounds absolutely horrendous. It is horrendous, and I think that once people find out that most of the children have parents the automatic next assumption is well, they must be bad parents to give their children up. But I've been in so many situations and seen so many parents who’s choice is literally between allowing the child to starve, or giving them to the orphanage, because they have no money to feed their children. Or it's minus 20 degrees Celsius in the winter, and they've got no fuel for their tiny little hut where they live, and because of that they worry that their baby will freeze to death. So, with those options, and then particularly when the parents of a child with a disability are told “Your child will never get an education, will never be able to live in society - unless you give them to the orphanage,” the parent makes the only choice that they feel is right for the child and it is heartbreaking. And I will witness parents giving their children up, and I have witnessed the screams and the cries of the children, and the devastation of the parents - and I also know it's completely unnecessary. I think we’ve all got an idea of what we think an orphanage is, but can you but can you paint a clearer, more real picture of what these places are actually like around the world? We do see quite different orphanages and institutions around the world. For example if we look at the Central and Eastern Europe - countries like Russia, Ukraine and so on – very frequently you will see large institutions, maybe for 500 children, shaved heads, generic clothing, a total lack of identity, and very few staff looking after children who then find the only way that they can manage the institution is by punishment in order to control behaviour. Then if you look say at Central and South America and the Caribbean, if you look at Asia, you might see much smaller orphanages, maybe thirty forty fifty children. And that sounds like it's not quite so bad, but frequently we’ll have a situation with no access to clean drinking water, not enough food, no beds - children sleeping on concrete floors – so really poor conditions, and again for too few staff. In some countries you see a really dramatic difference between some that are really well financed, and are run by people who are very, very caring and are trying to do their best. But what's interesting about all of these places that look different around the world is we see a few basics in common. There are never enough personnel, so that the child can feel that love and one to one care, and that protection, and that sense of them being individually important that you get at home with families. And the outcomes for the children – so even so even in countries that have spent a lot of money on their institutions, and where they seem an awful lot better than these big, depersonalised and frightening places, the children who leave those institutions as young adults are much more likely to be involved in prostitution, or to get involved in criminality, or to take their own lives. And we see that across the board. So how do Lumos get involved? How do they go in and help these children? One of the first things that we do is that we try to work, in whatever country we’re in, together with the government, with the local authorities, with the communities, with children and families themselves, because it's about bringing understanding of what works best from international research and best-practice, but finding the solutions that work best locally really depend on empowering and supporting local people to come up with those solutions. So the first thing that we do is we start by raising awareness, and we help key decision makers, like government officials, to understand the harm of the system, and to see how it's possible to do it differently, because it's important not to blame people for a system they've inherited. You know, every government official working on this now - they didn't invent their orphanage system, they've inherited it. And so we have to help them to see that “it isn't your fault - but this is what's happening to children,” and so let's have a look at what we can do to make it better. So a vision of what a system can look like without institutions is the most important thing – so seeing first of all how families can be supported, what you can do, and when you do that, what difference it makes to children to be back in their families. And then seeing what does foster care look like - how can we set up alternative families for those children who can't go home? How can we set up schools so that they'll be inclusive of all children, so children with disabilities can be educated alongside their peers in the community, and be fully included in their communities? And once you demonstrate – so we help governments to put in place demonstration programmes – once you show what's possible, then it becomes much easier for that to roll out nationally across the country. What we also then do, is we make exchange visits between countries, so that different people can see different stages of change and development, and learn from each other – and that we have found has been very powerful. Another key thing that we have to do though is work at the international level, because all of the people who are still funding orphanages need to understand that there is a better thing to do with their money. And that includes major donors - like the European Commission, and the World Bank, and the US Government and the British Government – but it also includes those individuals who see an advert, a harrowing picture, and think “Yes I'll give to this orphanage they must be doing the right thing.” What we have to do with those funders first of all, those individuals and those governments, is help people to understand that we've forgotten our own history. We did away with orphanages - in the UK, in the United States of America, in Australia, in New Zealand, in Canada, in other European countries – long ago, and we did away with them because of the harm they were causing to children. And yet somehow, we’ve allowed orphanages to become mythologised, so that our imagined perception of an orphanage that we’re giving money to is somewhere happy and smiley, where children really are well looked after, and where they’re going to do fine – and actually the reality is most always the opposite. See I don’t understand where we’ve got that image from, because that is the image I had in my mind before speaking to you today. But it must be you know in our distant past…it is almost mythology I suppose, that is creating those pictures. Yeah and I think what's problematic with that is, again we only need to look at our own wonderful literature - at Charles Dickens – to see really what orphanages were like in the UK, and why we changed it here, to really remember that. But yes, there is so much mythology around orphans - including Harry Potter – as we know, and that goes across literature and films and what have you, and for some reason we just have this idea that the orphanages that we send money to, in Africa, or in Asia, or Latin America and the Caribbean region, are going to be doing the right thing for children. Maybe it's that we imagine that it's the worst of two evils. Maybe we imagine that those children would be even worse-off if they weren't in the orphanage, and so yes, maybe people think they'd be on the streets. But the amount of money that’s spent on orphanages, from our experience, if you spend it in the community, on families, on inclusive education, and on community-based health care and social services, you can help ten times as many children to be supported to live in the community, and you get much better outcomes for the kids. Now you’ve mentioned there that governments and individuals donate to orphanages, because they think it’s the right thing to do, but you’ve also got to be careful about deterring that, without having come up with a solution. So it’s a fine balance, isn’t it, between those two things? It absolutely is – and that’s why the work that Lumos does to demonstrate how you can make the change happen is so important. Because of course what we don’t want people to do if they’re funding an orphanage is stop funding it overnight, because that will result in children out on the streets, inevitably. What we do want people to do is say “OK, we are running an orphanage, we’re funding an orphanage at the moment, we want to move carefully to funding some community-based services and gradually help those children to go home – and stop more children from coming in.” And at Lumos, we have developed methodologies and approaches to making that happen really carefully, and ensuring that every child is cared for exactly as they should be in that process of change, and we demonstrate that in a number of countries. And using those demonstrations we’re able to help others who are trying to make that change happen. So, for example, in the Republic of Moldova, when we started our work, nearly ten years ago, there were around 12,000 children living in institutions, and many of these institutions had really poor conditions – some of them had 550 and more children living in them. Moldova has huge challenges to face – it is Europe’s poorest country by a very, very long way – and it has been the subject of political instability for a really long time. So, since we’ve been working in Moldova there have been I think now eight changes of government, and a revolution. And yet, during that time it’s been possible – by working with every single government that comes along, by working with the other, local NGOs and organisations that support children, and by working with the communities on the ground – to make major change happen. And now in Moldova, the numbers of children in institutions have reduced by more than 80%, and the government has taken the money it was spending on institutions and is now using that to fund services across the country. And because of that, it now has inclusive education across the country, and the numbers of children with disabilities being educated has more than doubled in the last four or five years. So we see these massive changes that are possible to happen in a relatively short space of time, even in a country that faces huge challenges. Most importantly, we see the difference it makes for the children, and we follow up and we make sure that those children are doing well once they have left the institutions. They are flying - nearly every single one of those children is flying, and I think one of the most extraordinary things for me is, we would never want any child to have to feel grateful for just having their basic rights – of living in a family, and in the community, and being protected, and going to school and having health care – because every child should have that. But when children have lived through an institution and then go back to their family and their community they know, and they tell us - and I've heard this from several children: “We know been given a second chance, we won’t mess it up.” Which is just extraordinary. It’s amazing. What would you say to somebody who was thinking about volunteering to work in an orphanage? I can really see why anybody would want to do this. I can see why people reaching out around the world and thinking “I want to do some good, I want to change this world, I want to challenge inequality,” would think “Right, I’m going to go to the place where children are most vulnerable, and that’s the orphanages.” But what we’re finding is that volunteering at orphanages is actually increasing the number of children coming in to orphanages, because in lots of countries that don’t necessarily have good regulation and legislation in place, ‘entrepreneurial people' – in inverted commas – are setting up orphanages precisely to bring in donations. And so what they do is they will go out into the community and aggressively recruit children, and I mean that they will even pay parents $100 and say “Give us your child, we’ll give them an education, and we’ll give them healthcare,” and then they’ll send out images around the world to say “Please help Cambodia’s orphans, or Thailand’s orphans, or Haiti’s orphans – please come and volunteer.” And the volunteers are expected to bring donations as well as to bring their time. So it's actually become a business, and it's something that really I would strongly recommend, that anybody who wants to volunteer and help around the world - the one place you shouldn't be going is an orphanage. There are many great things that you can do with your time and do to help, but don't go and volunteer in an orphanage because you will almost definitely be adding to the problem rather than solving it. You mentioned earlier that there are 8 million children in orphanages around the world, I mean that’s a huge number. It’s very daunting – where do you start in helping these children? I mean it’s, it’s a huge problem. It is a huge problem, and there are so many huge problems in the world to solve, and the great thing with this one is it can be solved. It’s going to take time, but by 2050 we’re absolutely confident there will be no more children living in orphanages and institutions anywhere in the world. And we will have forgotten, actually forgotten that we ever used to do this to children. How we get there is by working with many, many different partners and organisations all around the world; doing the country demonstration programmes, showing that its possible - and then helping that model to be transferred across to many other countries; making sure that the funders, the people who are putting big money in to children’s services, stop putting it in to the orphanage system, and put it in to the shift towards community-based health and education services. I first started my work in Romania back in 1993, and at that stage when I walked into my first orphanage – that had 550 children under the age of three, and where the mortality rate was probably heading on for 50% - it seemed like that one place was impossible to solve. And at that stage, there were about 200,000 children living in institutions in Romania. Now, there are less than 9,000, that orphanage closed a very long time ago, and the government of Romania has a plan in place to make sure there are no more children in orphanages by 2020. So if a country like Romania, in a 25 year period or 30 year period, can solve that problem – which arguably had the biggest problem per capita of orphanages in the world – then everyone else can solve it. It takes the political will, it takes the resolve of society, it takes the know-how, and it takes the resources. All of those things are available in the world today - we just have to put it all together. So what you've told me so far obviously takes a huge amount commitment and drive from yourself - what keeps you doing it? Why I keep doing the work that I do is because of individual children that I know personally. It is children who we have helped to come out of orphanages and institutions, who are back in their families, who are thriving. It's children with disabilities, who spent many years tied up, who were self-harming, who were unable to do the basics, and are now walking and talking, and going to school, and in the heart of their family. It’s children who were severely abused, and traumatised; it's children who were trafficked, that we’ve rescued and helped to get in to places of safety, and seeing the change it makes for them, and the hope in their eyes and the chance for the future. It’s the children who are now fighting for others – there are so many children and young people, who we’ve helped to get out of orphanages and institutions, who are now shouting in their communities, and talking to their politicians, and their schools, about how things need to be done differently, so that not child ever has to be separated from their family, and put in an orphanage. And it is, sadly, the children for whom it’s already too late. There are some children that we tried to help, children who were on the verge of death by starvation when we first intervened, and who we were too late to save. There are some children who died of being beaten to death, and there are some children who disappeared at the hands of traffickers – and they are always with me. So, it’s very easy to be motivated to get up and do this, because the need is so great, but the solution is clear, and when you solve this problem, the difference it makes to that individual child, and for the future of our society, is extraordinary. So it’s not only the success stories that motivate you, but also, the memory of the tragic stories also keeps you doing what you’re doing. That’s absolutely right, and it’s the memory of both those groups of children that keeps me going, and just reminds me why we have to keep doing this until it’s done. Well, we also want to appeal to the people watching this to help – how can they get involved? There are so many ways that people can help Lumos. Firstly, we have campaigns that we really need your help with, so if you join us on Twitter of Facebook, there will always be opportunities to tweet, to send messages, and to help to make change in that way. And I can give you a little example: you many have heard of the Sustainable Development Goals, which is the United Nations way of trying to end poverty and harm and disease by 2030, and the slogan of the sustainable development goals is Leave No One Behind. And yet, the eight million children in institutions are not considered in these goals in any way, so we’ve been campaigning over the last year to make sure that they’re included, and you can join that campaign and help us. There’ll be many other campaigns it the future, and we’re always going to need that help. We’re launching We Are Lumos Worldwide, which is a way that you can get involved in many different ways – raising awareness about Lumos, fundraising for Lumos, supporting us, and being part of the movement. Putting your name to it, and sharing your voice and your opinion around the world. But just do anything you can – raise awareness, tell people why orphanages are not the answer, and that the better thing is to support children to be in their families. If you’ve got a friend who’s thinking of volunteering in an orphanage, get them to do some research first, and find out what else they could do that might be better for children. If you know somebody who’s donating to an orphanage, talk to them about how they can help to support the transition to community-based services. But, get involved, help us out, because we need it. That’s fantastic, thank you George. Thank you very much Warwick. So, if you want to find out more, go to wearelumos.org. Thanks. -

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Posted by: lumos on May 27, 2016

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