Shining a light on J.K. Rowling’s charity, Lumos

At the recent LeakyCon London, J.K. Rowling’s charity, Lumos, presented the above video concerning the global issue of institutions. After the screening, Vicky Gillings, Head of Communications for Lumos, talked in more detail about the charity’s plans as a whole and how people can get involved in their work.

Since LeakyCon, MuggleNet has had the chance to speak with Vicky in person and get the – more detailed – scoop on what Lumos is currently up to.

Hi, Vicky. Thanks for speaking with us. Let’s start about the beginning – tell us a little more about Lumos. When was it founded? What is J.K. Rowling’s involvement with the charity?

Lumos is a charity that was set up by J.K. Rowling in 2007 and came into being after she was alerted to the plight of the millions of children living in institutions around the world through a Sunday Times article.

The article showed a picture of a young boy with physical and behavioural disabilities who was being kept in a caged bed as a way to “contain” his behavior in a so-called “orphanage” in the Czech Republic. She was so moved by this that she began researching into this problem and wanted to do something to help those children who had been separated from their families, isolated from the community, and abandoned by a care system that was supposed to help them.

This article shed light on the continuing practice around the world, but particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, of placing children in institutions, not because they were all orphans – indeed the majority of children in orphanages are not orphans – but because their families were too poor to look after them, especially if they had a disability, and in some cases if they were from an ethnic minority.

Lumos works to end the systematic institutionalization of children, and it does this by working with national governments and the local authorities to close institutions, build up community-based services that help keep children with their families, and help children become reunited with their families. Lumos trains staff from the old institutions to work in the new services and supports the creation of foster care and adoption services and an education system that is inclusive for those with disabilities. We also work on an individual basis with the children, making assessments and recommendations for their needs.

J.K. Rowling is the founder of Lumos and the Chair of the Board, so she is closely involved with the work of the charity.

The Lumos video seemed to go down well! How did you find your first experience of LeakyCon?

I’m glad you say that about the film. Describing the situation for those eight million children living in institutions around the world is quite difficult – it’s so hard to imagine their lives and the harmful effects of being without a family.

There is a wealth of evidence that shows that the children living in “orphanages,” where they are denied a family life and the individual care, love, and attention, do not thrive. Indeed, the effects of being in an institution can damage children physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Further research has shown that children growing up in orphanages have very poor life chances and are much more likely to end up trafficked, in prostitution, with a criminal record, and many more times likely to take their own lives. In light of this, we wanted a film that would convey the seriousness of the problem for those children but also explain that the solution (deinstitutionalization), while complex, is one that Lumos can deliver. I think it’s really important that we see the problem through a child’s perspective and how it must feel for them, and in this short film we see it through the eyes of “Maria.” I think that J.K. Rowling’s narration is so powerful and really engaging, it makes you want to listen.

In terms of LeakyCon overall, I really enjoyed it! I have presented at many corporate types of conferences in the past, but nothing could quite prepare me for LeakyCon. It felt more like a gig rather than a conference, and everyone there was so enthusiastic and energised. You could almost reach out and touch the energy in the room. It was a great experience.

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