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Interview with J.K. Rowling; J.K. Rowling Discusses her Charity Lumos which Seeks to Help Children in Orphanages. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired November 25, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:007] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight a rare, revealing, exclusive interview with J.K. Rowling. Twenty years after casting her
spell with the very first Harry Potter book, the British author opens up about the other huge passion in her life, getting every institutionalized
child out of orphanages.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
J.K. ROWLING, FOUNDER OF LUMOS: I would be writing. And like many, many people in the world, I would like to make a difference, but I want to do it
in a meaningful way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Plus, J.K. Rowling spills the beans on her own chamber of secrets. This is a J.K. Rowling scoop, I'm sorry.
AMANPOUR: There's a hidden book somewhere.
Good evening everyone, and welcome to a special edition of our program. I am Christiane Amanpour in London.
The magic of Harry Potter has transformed her into the most famous, most loved, most celebrated author of our time. But away from the limelight,
J.K. Rowling has a deep but much less public passion, her charity Lumos, dedicated to ended an often unseen, an unknown tragedy of our time, which
is the institutionalization of children. Eight million are believed to be in orphanages all over the world.
But here's the rub. According to research, more than 80 percent of them aren't even orphans. J.K. Rowling has said to have amassed a $25 billion
empire, giving away hundreds of millions to her charity. She mostly communicates by her 11 million Twitter followers, and she rarely gives
interviews. But tonight she opens the door into her other world.
J.K. Rowling, welcome to the program.
J.K. ROWLING: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: What is it that got you interested from the beginning? How did you decide that this was your mission?
ROWLING: Well, like a lot of people, I had no idea. I really had no idea about the scale of the problem. I was pregnant and therefore perhaps
particularly vulnerable and emotional to anything to do with small children. And flipping through the Sunday paper, and I saw what -- still I
see it in my memory. It was a very disturbing image of a very small boy screaming through chicken wire. And I went to turn the page, I'm not proud
of it, I did go to turn the page. And then I stopped and I thought, if the story is as bad as the picture looks, then you have to do something about
it. It was a cot for a baby covered in mesh, covered in wire, and that was his existence. From that, that's how it all began. I was just appalled
AMANPOUR: And Lumos comes from where? Where Lumos?
ROWLING: It is spell in Harry Potter. It's a bit corny.
AMANPOUR: It's not corny. That's what you're known for.
ROWLING: It's funny because I wanted to call it Lumos and no one could think of anything better than Lumos basically. But it is a life giving
spell, so the metaphor is glaringly obvious.
AMANPOUR: Harry Potter is an orphan, so it's kind of obvious that you're doing this, is it?
ROWLING: It wasn't obvious to me at the time, but to be very candid, I think I have -- I think my worst fear, my personal worst fear is
powerlessness and small spaces. So when you think about that little boy trapped in the cage bed, he is totally voiceless and nobody was speaking
for him. And I think that we all have something that touches us on a very visceral level, and I think that's mine. That's my thing.
AMANPOUR: Small spaces, why?
ROWLING: I don't know. I've always had that. And I think just the idea that these children were being kept penned like this was horrific to me.
So although I didn't think that's like Harry in his cupboard, I suppose why did I put Harry in the cupboard, because this is my fear of being trapped
and being powerless to get out of that space. So on a very crude level, I think that news story tapped into something that I found personally
AMANPOUR: Harry has done a lot of good in the world.
ROWLING: I hope so.
AMANPOUR: Because Harry has inspired this work to help some of the most forgotten children. Millions believed to be warehoused in orphanages. A
year after seeing that boy in the cage in 2005 she created her own charity to stop that. It now operates around the world in places like Moldova, the
Czech Republic, Haiti, Columbia, and Bulgaria.
[14:35:04] AMANPOUR: This is Krushari, once Bulgaria's largest and most notorious institution, with its long, dark, decaying corridors, and its
countless cold, bare bedrooms. This is what many children once called home. It's where they lived and where many died.
Now through the efforts of Lumos, Krushari has been shut down. The children helped into small group homes closer to their families where they
get individual care and attention, the opportunity to socialize and plan for a future they may never have imagined.
Lumos works all over the world supporting children like those in Krushari, providing them with an environment that is safe and caring. And as much as
possible, Lumos wants to help children return home to the arms of those they love, like Christina and Igor. They are siblings, both with
disabilities. With the support of Lumos, they have been reunited with their parents after years of living in a Moldovan orphanage. Now for the
first time they're able to sit around the family table to enjoy each other's company and to finally experience a love they had been so
tragically deprived of.
AMANPOUR: You're trying to deinstitutionalize them, right? The objective is get these kids out of institutions?
ROWLING: Our ambition is to end child institutionalization by 2050. That's the ambition.
AMANPOUR: All over the world?
ROWLING: All over the world.
AMANPOUR: Global. How many kids are we talking about?
ROWLING: Well, that's a far more important question than many people will realize because we estimate there are 8 million children in institutions
worldwide, but that might be a low guess. And we know that around a million children disappear in Europe every year.
AMANPOUR: The crisis she's speaking about is one I first came across almost three decades ago as a young foreign correspondent in Ceausescu's
Romania, the last of communist bloc countries to fall back in 1989. I saw for myself then the harrowing sight of children and babies in long rows of
caged beds, helplessly trapped in a life from which they could never escape.
AMANPOUR: In the village of Negru Voda in southern Romania stands yet another of Ceausescu's horrifying legacies. This is an asylum. It is
filled to overflowing with more than 200 mentally handicapped children abandoned by parents who couldn't care for them and neglected by a state
that wouldn't, for it considered these children useless, even though many are victims of Ceausescu's own high birth rate policy which banned
contraception and abortion.
In the months since the revolution, conditions have improved but they are still grim by any standard. There aren't enough beds so the children are
packed in two and three at a time. Some beds can't even be used because the mattresses are rotting. There's just one nurse to every 30 children,
and they are rushed off their feet as coping with the barest essentials. So the children often sit for hours in their urine and go unwashed for days
because water is severely rationed.
They've been neglected for so long that even a visit from a reporter is a chance for some affection. The one doctor assigned to this asylum is a
pediatrician untrained in psychiatric disorders. He is fighting just to keep the children alive.
"Before the revolution, three children would die a week because of inhuman conditions here," he says. "Now things are better. We have had only three
deaths in the past five months. It's because we show more interest."
Dr. Erinchi (ph) teaches them to sing and dance and count. He has to keep them occupied as best he can because there are no rehabilitation programs
here. Most of the children just lie in bed day-in and day-out. There are hundreds of mentally handicapped children hidden away in asylums across
this country. Some foreign aid has been coming in as word of their plight gets out. But Romania is strapped for cash and Dr. Erinchi (ph) wonders
where these children rank on the new government's list of priorities.
Christiane Amanpour, CNN, Negru Voda, Romania.
AMANPOUR: In the pictures of the report that I did from Romania near the Bulgaria border, I was stunned even we're now talking 1990. I was a young
reporter. I wasn't a mother yet. And I was stunned by all these little children coming up to me as if they had never seen anybody give them any
affection or anything, like trying to hug me.
ROWLING: That has happened to me as well in institutions. You know and I know and anyone that's been around children knows that the immediate
impulse of a young child when they see a stranger walk into the house is wariness. And that is correct behavior. It's normal human behavior.
[14:40:01] These children are so hungry and thirsty for any kind of one-on- one attention that they will run and cling to total strangers. So I have literally had the experience of being crawled over by shaven-headed
children. And I can remember a little girl just crawling into my lap and holding me. And I did hug her. But I was heartbroken, just heartbroken by
it. Part of you wants to pick her up and go, of course it does. That's your human reaction.
I think for me Lumos is about these children who -- I mean, I heard heartbreaking stories. I've met children, obviously. I've visited
institutions. I am always hyperaware that when I visit the institution I am seeing the best of the best, you know. And even then, I have seen
horrible, horrible things.
AMANPOUR: Up next, J.K. Rowling on how her charity tries to bring happiness to families by actually reuniting them at home and out of the
Plus, the vital support of her own family, and how she juggles charity work with blockbuster screenplays.
[14:45:00] AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program and my exclusive interview with author J.K. Rowling. How she juggles her Harry Potter
empire and her charity, which wants nothing less than end child institutionalization all over the world. Lumos reckons the vast majority
of the 8 million children in orphanages today are technically not even orphans, and here she warns off well-meaning donors and volunteers. In
part two of our conversation, we hear about the heartbreaking trip that her husband Dr. Neil Murray made.
ROWLING: My husband very recently went to Moldova on a fieldtrip. I can't clone myself and I needed to do a screenplay. Neil, who is a doctor, said
I'll go, I'll go to Moldova. I'll have a look at what's going on. I said that would be amazing, that would be so good.
Anyway, he told me he went into a room in this institution and he saw a little boy, sort of this long, propped up on a chair who clearly had
multiple physical issues. And Neil said to me, he was suffocating. I said what do you mean he was suffocating? Neil is a doctor, so he made a
beeline for this boy, and he manipulated his jaws to the boy could breath. And he said this little boy beamed at him, and he thought he must be five-
years-old or so. And he turned to the nurse and said how old is he, and how does he normally breathe? And she said, well, normally he lies face
down all day with his head hanging over the bed. That brings his jaw forward so he can breathe.
But obviously because the visitors had come, they put this poor boy into clothes and propped him up, and he is slowly suffocating in a corner. And
then she said oh, he is 15. Neil was pretty upset when he came home and told me all about him. He said I don't think he is going to make it. But
he did make it. We got him to hospital.
AMANPOUR: You started this really tragic story which has a good ending, saying you couldn't go because you were writing a script.
ROWLING: I'm on the second screenplay for "The Fantastic Beast" franchise. And no one else can write it. I'm writing it. I am the screenwriter, so
we are about to start filming, so I really needed to be on the screenplay.
AMANPOUR: Because I wonder what it is like to do that one day and then to be in this area of extreme abnormality and need and poverty and sadness.
Was it weird?
ROWLING: No, it's not weird. It's not weird, no. I love writing. We all know I don't actually need to write any more, you know. That's a given. I
write because I just love writing. It gets me up every day. I would be writing no matter what.
But I suppose I've always had this other side -- I used to work at Families International. I've always had this side of me that just wants to try and
make a difference. But I want to do it in a meaningful way. And one of the things that Lumos taught me is be very, very careful how you give,
because even if you're giving with the best of intentions, you may inadvertently be doing harm.
AMANPOUR: Even from well-meaning donors?
ROWLING: Very, very, very well-meaning donors who are inadvertently propping up a system that we know we have maybe 100 years of hard research
that shows that even a well-run institution, even an institution set up the best possible intentions will irrevocably harm the child.
AMANPOUR: What is it that you can do?
ROWLING: Right, exactly, absolutely. This is the key question. So possibly the most staggering figure in all of this is that we know at least
80 percent of these children aren't orphans.
AMANPOUR: They're not orphans?
ROWLING: Exactly. This is mind blowing to most people. It is in the name, right? These are orphanages, except they're not. We know that 80
percent of these children have at least one living parent who overwhelmingly, the parent didn't want to give up the child up. So why are
they in the institution? Grinding poverty. That's the number one reason. So you have children with special needs or physical and mental handicaps.
AMANPOUR: So what do you do?
ROWLING: Number one, how do we reunite children with their parents. That's the number one goal. Get them back to families that want them.
This is doable because it is 10 times cheaper to put a child even with special needs back into their family than to keep them in the institution.
ROWLING: So the family themselves might need daycare. So we will repurpose the institution for daycare center, but the child is going home
every night. The institution is often a major local employer, so many people who are not bad people have huge vested interests in keeping the
institution going. We can retrain these people to be nurses, social workers, in careers and foster careers and so forth. We have retrained --
so Lumos has retrained 30,000 professionals across 34 countries. And we have got 18,000 children out of institutions.
[14:50:07] There are cases where a child can't go home. We estimate 20 percent are orphans. We would first look at extended family. Can we
support the grandmother or the aunt to take the child?
AMANPOUR: Are they happy to take them?
ROWLING: Overwhelmingly yes, but because the poverty is the thing that overwhelmingly has driven them into the institution, we need to support
them and their community. And I would say if anyone after watching this program did want to donate, I have covered all core costs. So any money
given to Lumos will go into the field.
A lot of the solution is donate differently and volunteer differently. That's a huge message I would like to get out to my people, the people who
grew up with Harry Potter who are now all in their 20s. Volunteering is an amazing thing, but volunteer in the right way. And volunteering in an
orphanage is not a good thing to do. You're propping up a system and, unfortunately, little though you might not want to believe it, one of the
reasons institutions are set up is to bring foreign money in the country in the form of donations but also in the form of volunteers, wealthy western
volunteers who are also bringing currency in.
AMANPOUR: A powerful reminder that the road to hell can be paved with good intentions. When we come back, a scoop, a surprise for her fans. J.K.
Rowling and the lost manuscript. Imagine that, next.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, you heard J.K. Rowling telling me earlier that she will probably always be writing. Imagine what her legions of fans
will make of this.
I read that you were considering writing a political book for children, young people.
[14:55:04] ROWLING: That was a fairy tale. Yes, and I ended up, I don't know whether I'll ever publish that, but I will tell you this. My 50th,
the theme of my 50th birthday which I held at Halloween, even though that's not really my birthday, was come as your own private nightmare. And I went
as a lost manuscript. And I wrote over a dress most of that book. I wrote it. So that book I don't know whether it will ever be published, it is
actually hanging in a wardrobe currently.
AMANPOUR: This is a J.K. Rowling scoop.
AMANPOUR: I'm sorry. There's a hidden book somewhere.
ROWLING: We were talking about a lot of grim stuff. So I thought I'd throw in something fun.
AMANPOUR: And J.K. Rowling, why the initials?
ROWLING: Oh. Because my publisher who published "Harry Potter," they said we think this is a book that will appeal to boys and girls. And I said
great. And they said so could we use your initials, because basically they were trying to disguise my gender. And obviously that lasted about three
seconds because -- which is wonderful, I'm certainly not complaining, but the bookmen won an award and I got a big advance and got a lot of
I quite like J.K. I wouldn't have chosen it and I wouldn't have chosen it for that reason either, but I was grateful to be published. If they told
me to call myself Rupert, I probably would have done it, to be honest with you. But now I actually quite like having a penname, because I feel to an
extent that feels like an identity, and then in private life I'm Jo Murray. And it feels like a quite nice separation.
AMANPOUR: Well, Jo Murray, J.K. Rowling, thank you very much, indeed.
ROWLING: It's been an absolute pleasure.
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much.
ROWLING: Thank you.