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Bringing Light Into a Dark Place

JK Rowling_NYC

J.K. Rowling in NYC for launch of Lumos USA

When you think of J. K. Rowling, you probably think of the Harry Potter series, but what you – and many other people – may not know about the internationally-acclaimed author is that she is also the founder of Lumos, an international, non-profit organization dedicated to ending the institutionalization of the world’s children by 2050.

Harry Potter Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter Sorcerer’s Stone Film

JK Quote About Lumos SpellJ.K. Rowling was inspired to start Lumos, which she named after the light-giving spell in Harry Potter, in 2005, in response to a newspaper article and photograph of a small boy confined to a cage in an institution in the Czech Republic.

Rowling wrote in an article in 2014, “His hands clutched what appeared to be chicken wire containing him, and his expression was agonized. … It told of a nightmarish institution where children as young as six were caged most of the day and night. I ripped the article out, and the following day I began writing letters to everybody I could think of with influence in the matter.”

She added, “These efforts led quickly to the establishment of Lumos. …. Part of our work in Lumos is to shed light on the lives of those millions of children separated from their families for reasons of poverty, disability and discrimination.”

Lumos_2Currently approximately 8 million children live in institutions around the world. Perhaps counterintuitive, most children in orphanages are not orphans. More than 80 percent of children living in residential care centers have at least one living parent as well as extended family, often living within the same community. To help those children return to family life, Lumos works in partnership with governments, communities, families, children and caregivers to transform outdated, ineffective systems that separate children from families, and to provide children access to education, health, and social care services tailored to their needs.

Huebner Lumos col

Gillian Huebner

Gillian Huebner, an expert on international assistance to vulnerable children who helped to establish the Lumos US office in Washington, DC, said in December that since 2008, Lumos has helped more than 14,000 children in Eastern Europe move from institutions back into families.

“Many children,” she continued, “especially those with disabilities, had been sent to residential institutions because they were the only source of education and other vital services.

“But when communities support families by providing the education, health, and social services needed, they are empowering those families to care for their own children,” she explained.

Lumos often ideally reunites children living in orphanages with their biological families, but a child may also be placed with extended family or with foster parents depending on the situation,” Huebner added.

“Family reunification, especially for children requiring specialized care, can be a complex and time-consuming process,” Huebner noted. “Before a child can return home safely, education, medical and social services providers need training; children and families need to be properly evaluated, and the community must be prepared to reintegrate the children.”


The early years of a child’s life are particularly critical. Research proves the importance of a parent to a child’s normal development. Loving, adult engagement with a young child helps strengthen neural-electrical connections in the young brain. Brain scans visibly demonstrate the dramatic difference between the brain development of children who have had sustained, nurturing, one-to-one care from an adult, and those who have been raised without it. Children growing up in orphanages and other institutions are more frequently sick and at greater risk of mental illness than are other children and, as adults, find their life chances limited.

The earlier a child leaves an institution and returns to family care, the greater the gains they can make. In contrast, children who spend their entire childhood within the walls of an institution experience as adults a significantly higher incidence of homelessness, crime, early pregnancies and out-of-wedlock births, and joblessness.

Lumos2 (002)

J.K. Rowling with Dumitrita

Huebner shared a story about Dumitrita, a young Moldovan girl who had been in an institution for five years with little hope of returning home. Dumitrita’s mother, fearing for her daughter’s future, had seen no other choice than to send her to a residential institution where she could learn, and at the age of seven, Dumitrita was sent away.

“I lived five years there,” Dumitrita, 14, told J.K. Rowling during a visit the author made to the teenager’s country, where until very recently a child with disabilities like hers could not attend a mainstream school.

With changes in governmental policies, improvements in community services, and help from Lumos, Dumitrita was able not only to return home but also to enroll in the local school, which now has a new Special Education program and activities.

Today Dumitrita loves her new life, has many new friends and has become an advocate for other children.

Lumos in Moldova

Lumos in Moldova

Her story is part of a bigger picture of ongoing reform in Moldova, where the number of children in institutions has declined by 70 percent in just seven years. It also is a powerful testament to the reality that children do not and should not have to sacrifice their right to a family in order to receive an education.

Huebner said, “Although Dumitrita’s separation from her family was tragic and unnecessary, it’s a surprisingly common scenario around the world.”

Huebner said that she often gets a surprising reaction when she explains that most of these children in orphanages actually do have parents and families. “We have a lot of work to do to dispel the disturbingly common misperception that orphanages are necessary, serve primarily children without parents, and provide a valuable service. Instead, more than 80 percent of institutionalized children have families, and the time spent in orphanages does more harm than good.”

Lumos has been working to eliminate orphanages and other residential institutions for children over the past 10 years, particularly in former Soviet bloc countries like the Czech Republic, Moldova, and the Ukraine. There, many believe, a ‘tipping point’ has been reached, as most countries in that region now have a plan to end the institutionalization of children.

Yet, despite successful efforts in Eastern Europe, orphanages are on the rise across the globe. This trend runs in direct opposition to more than 80 years of evidence that the institutionalization is harmful to children.


Lumos – Reunited

One of the largest and most influential groups that Lumos currently collaborates with is made up of U.S. faith-based organizations working to model good practice. “We particularly want to highlight those that have used evidence to transition their models to supporting children within families and communities,” Huebner said.

Following the launch of a program in Haiti in 2014, Lumos is expanding its work in Latin America and the Caribbean and plans to take its work worldwide in the coming years.

“It is my dream that, within my lifetime,
the very concept of taking a child away from
its family and locking it away will seem to
belong to a cruel, fictional world.”

— J.K. Rowling Lumos Founder


J. K. Rowling originally funded Lumos with an endowment fund, with a portion of the proceeds from her Harry Potter Series.  Lumos receives various types of funding, including:

  • Individual Donations
  • Corporation Contributions
  • Grants and Government Contracts
  • Royalties from Rowling’s books, which include:

The Tales of Beedle The Bard
very-good-lives-published-1429007938-cw Very Good Lives, based on J. K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Address


If you would like to donate or volunteer, visit the Lumos website at

Lumos recently released Children Need Families Not Orphanages, an animated film narrated by J. K. Rowling, to both educate policymakers and build public and political will for reform.

Kids can become involved through school-based projects and fundraisers.


Lumos_Let's Talk LumosLumos also has launched a Twitter-based App to raise awareness, called Let’s Talk Lumos, which models a modern-day online chat conversation to get young people involved with the Lumos mission to end institutional care of children.



Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“What we hope is that we’re raising a generation of Harry Potter readers, who understand that children shouldn’t be in institutions,” says Huebner.

Rowling has committed to being a Lifetime President of Lumos.

The Lumos vision is a world where all children are raised in a safe and caring environment; where no child is placed in large, uncaring institutions.

Read the Lumos open letter at #‎leavenoonebehind.
Read the article, All Children Count, written by Gillian Huebner.

Sandi Craig

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One thought on “Bringing Light Into a Dark Place

  1. Great article. There are so many great people that a lot of people just don’t know their story. Glad to see someone bringing this
    to light. You never know who you will touch in your walk of life.

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