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Rowling Shines Light on her Charity Lumos; J.K. Rowling's Chamber of Secrets
Aired July 14, 2017 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] ROBYN KRIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Robyn Kriel. This is "CNN News Now."
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doctors do not believe he can be helped.
That's your "CNN News Now." AMANPOUR is next.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, a rare, revealing and exclusive interview with J.K. Rowling. 20 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
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
J.K. ROWLING, AUTHOR, "HARRY POTTER" SERIES: I would be writing no matter. 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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: This is a J.K. Rowling scoop, I'm sorry. There is a hidden book somewhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to a special edition of our program. I'm Christian Amanpour in London.
The magic of "Harry Potter" has transformed her into the most famous, most loved, and 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 ending an often unseen and unknown tragedy of
our time, which is the institutionalization of children. 8 million are believed to be in orphanages all over the world.
But here's the rub. According to the research, more than 80 percent of them aren't even orphans.
J.K. Rowling is said to have amassed a $25 billion empire, giving away hundreds of millions to her charity. She mostly communicates via her 11
million Twitter followers, and she rarely gives interviews. But tonight she opens the door into her other world.
AMANPOUR: J.K. Rowling, welcome to the program.
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 this problem. I was pregnant. And therefore, perhaps
particularly vulnerable and emotional to anything to do with small children.
And I'm flicking through the Sunday paper, and I saw what is -- 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. But 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's a cot for a baby covered in mesh, covered in wire. And that was his existence. And from that -- that's how it all began. I was just appalled
AMANPOUR: And Lumos comes from where? Why Lumos?
ROWLING: Well, it's a spell in Harry Potter. It's a bit corny.
AMANPOUR: It's not corny. It's what you're known for.
ROWLING: Well, it's funny, because I wanted to call it Lumos, and no one could think of anything better than that. But it's a light-giving spell,
so the metaphor is glaringly obvious.
[14:05:00] AMANPOUR: Harry Potter is an orphan, so it's kind of obvious you're doing this, isn't it?
ROWLING: It wasn't obvious in -- 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's totally voiceless. And nobody was
speaking for him.
And I think that that -- we all have something that touches us on a very visceral level. I mean -- 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.
But then -- 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. Just powerless to get out of those space.
And you know, on the very -- on a very crude level, I think that news story tapped into something that I found personally horrifying.
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 world's most forgotten children. Millions are believed to be warehoused in
A year after seeing that boy in the cage, in 2005, Rowling created her own charity to stop that. It now operates around the world in places like
Moldova, the Czech Republic, Haiti, Columbia and Bulgaria.
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 to 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 Cristina 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 very first time, they're able to sit around the family table to enjoy each other's company and to finally experience a love they have been
so tragically deprived of.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: You are trying to deinstitutionalize them, right?
ROWLING: Exactly right.
AMANPOUR: The objective is to get these kids out of institutions.
ROWLING: Our ambition is to end child institutionalization by 2050. That's the ambition. And --
AMANPOUR: All over the world.
ROWLING: All over the world. Global.
AMANPOUR: 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 1 million children disappear in Europe every year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The crisis she is speaking about is one I first came across almost three decades ago as a young foreign correspondent in Ceausescu's
Romania, the last of the communist block 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
AMANPOUR: In the village of Negru Voda in southern Romania stands yet another Ceausescus 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 Ceausescus 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 is just one nurse to every 30 children, and they are rushed off their feet
just coping with the barest essentials.
So the children often sit for hours in their own urine and go unwashed for days, because water is severely rationed.
[14:10:20] They have 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.
(SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
"Before the revolution, three children would die every week because of the inhuman conditions here," he says. "Now things are better. We've had only
three deaths in the past five months. It's because we show more interest."
Dr. Urinchi (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. Urinchi (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's happened to me as well in institutions. You know and I know and anyone who has been around children knows that the immediate
impulse of a young child when they see a stranger walk into the house is wariness. That -- and that is correct behavior. It's normal human
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 little 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.
I'm just heartbroken by it.
Part of you wants to just pick her up and go. Of course it does. That's your human reaction.
And I think that for me, Lumos is about these children who -- I mean, I have heard heartbreaking stories. I've met children, obviously -- I've
visited institutions. I'm always hyper aware that when I visit the institution I'm seeing the best of the best, you know. And even then I've
seen horrible, horrible things.
When I visited an institution of which the staff are enormously proud. And there were three children with cerebral palsy lying together on a single
bed. And that was their life. No stimulation.
AMANPOUR: Tied practically to the bed.
ROWLING: Actually, yes. Yes. I was told. One of the things I still have difficulty talking about without crying. The nurse there told me there was
a little girl on the ward. And I think she had spina bifida, but I don't - - I can't quite remember. I think she did.
But there was absolutely no mental impairment is the point of this story. And she used to ask for her mother. And she knew her mother was out there.
Now the culture in some of these countries is give us your disabled child, go away, it's best you don't think about it. Go away and try to have a
healthy baby. But this little girl had loads to give. And she never saw her mother. Her mother never came. And the nurse told me that she
sometimes left the institution and phoned the ward and pretended to be the little girl's mother. And that would keep the little girl going for a
month. I know, it's bad. Isn't it? It's very bad.
So you hear quite a lot of these stories. I mean, I -- and as I -- I emphasize that I haven't seen because they won't let me see the worst.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you. You know, one of the things we all learned about you was that you wrote your book sitting in a cafe, you know --
ROWLING: Which is true.
ROWLING: I know, it's become a semi-myth. But it's true.
AMANPOUR: But you've also said that one of your proudest moments or the thing that you're proudest of is being a single mom.
ROWLING: Yes, I am. Absolutely. Yes.
AMANPOUR: And why were you so proud?
ROWLING: Well, I was proud because I think at the time when I said that I was proud -- so I would say it's probably '97, '98, and I gave an interview
and I was asked about how I had written the book and I told the true story.
And I think I was a little punchy at that time, and wanting to make an assertive point about single parenthood, because I had had Jessica, my
oldest daughter, at the time when we were being quite stigmatized. I say we. I'm now remarried, obviously. But I feel a lot of solidarity with
women raising children on their own.
AMANPOUR: She says her daughter, Jessica, didn't remember being poor, just being happy.
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 orphanage
Plus, the vital support of her own family. And how she juggles charity work with blockbuster screenplays.
[14:16:42] 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 was nothing less than to 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 field trip. I was -- I can't clone myself. And I needed to do a screenplay. And Neil, who
is a doctor, said, I'll go. I'll go to Moldova. I'll have a look at what's going on. And I thought, that would be amazing. You know, that
would be so good.
Anyway, he told me that 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.
And I said, what do you mean, he was suffocating? Well, Neil is a doctor so he made a bee line for this boy, and he manipulated his jaw so the boy
could breathe. And he said this little boy beamed at him and Neil thought he must be 5 years old or so.
And he turned to the nurse and through an interpreter 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 sort of hanging over the edge of the bed. That brings his jaw forward so he can
But obviously because the visitors had come, they put this poor boy in clothes and propped him up and he's slowly suffocating in a corner. And
then she said, "Oh, and he's 15."
Neil was pretty upset when he came home and told me all about it. And he said, I don't think he's going to make it. But he did make it. We got him
into hospital. So --
AMANPOUR: You know, 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 that. I'm writing it. I am the screen writer so
we're about to start filming so I really needed to be on the screenplay.
AMANPOUR: Because I wonder what it's like to be doing that one day and then to be in this area of extreme abnormality and need and poverty and
ROWLING: Well --
AMANPOUR: Is it weird to --
ROWLING: No, it's not weird. It's not weird. No. I love writing. We all know I don't actually need to write anymore. 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 to me that really wants to, you know -- I used to work for Amnesty 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 has 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: You mean from well-meaning donors.
ROWLING: Very, very, very well-meaning donors who are inadvertently propping up a system that we know we have nearly 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.
[14:20:17] AMANPOUR: So what is it that you can do?
ROWLING: Right. Exactly. Absolutely. This is the key question.
So the -- 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. Now, this is mind-blowing to most people. That, you know, it's 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 -- and overwhelmingly, the parent didn't want to give the child up. So
why are they in the institution? Grinding poverty.
That's the number one reason. So you have a lot of children with special needs or physical and mental handicaps.
AMANPOUR: And 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 ten times cheaper to put a child, even with special needs, back into their family than to keep them in the institution.
ROWLING: It's ten times -- so the family themselves need -- 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 strict nurses, social workers and careers and foster careers and so forth.
We have retrain -- so far, Lumos has retrained 30,000 professionals across 34 countries. And we've got 18,000 children out of institutions. There
are cases where a child can't go home. We estimate 20 percent are orphans.
We would firstly look in the 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 the child into the institution, they need -- we
need to support them and their community.
AMANPOUR: Are you welcomed with open arms, or are people looking at this do-good, really famous, you know, writer, and thinking what is she doing
with our kids?
ROWLING: The important thing to know about Lumos is we are not marching in there ever and saying, watch us, watch us sort out this problem.
In every single country we're working, there are experts on the ground, native speakers, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, who know the
system is wrong. But we can go in and support them financially and with expertise to make the change. Be it Moldova, where we currently doing some
work with the U.N., in Ethiopia with child refugees in Ethiopia, or in Haiti. We're working in Colombia.
And we have been invited in by Russia and Ukraine to look at their systems of care.
In Moldova, I do want to say this, I'm very proud of this. We have led the closure of 80 percent of institutions in Moldova.
AMANPOUR: That's pretty remarkable.
ROWLING: Yes. And we're very proud.
AMANPOUR: And you have all sort of accountability and all those things --
ROWLING: Completely. And I would say that 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, you know, 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 want to believe it, one of the reasons institutions are set up is to bring
foreign money into the country in the form of donations, but also in the form of volunteers. Wealthy western volunteers who are also bringing
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 last manuscript. Imagine that. Next.
[14:25:43] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, you heard J.K. Rowling telling me earlier that she'll probably always be writing. Well, imagine what her
legions of fans will make of this.
AMANPOUR: I read that you were considering writing a political book for children, young people?
ROWLING: Oh, that was a fairytale.
ROWLING: Yes. And I ended up -- I don't know whether I'll ever publish that. But I -- 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, but it's actually hanging in a wardrobe currently.
AMANPOUR: This is a J.K. Rowling scoop, I'm sorry. There is a hidden book somewhere.
ROWLING: We were talking about a lot of grim stuff so I thought I would throw in something fun, you know?
AMANPOUR: And J.K. Rowling?
AMANPOUR: Why the initials?
ROWLING: Oh. Because my publisher, my -- who published Harry Potter, they said to me, we think this is a book that will appeal to boys and girls.
And I said, oh, great. And they said, so could we use your initials? Because basically they were trying to disguise my --
ROWLING: Gender. And obviously that lasted about three seconds. Because -- which is wonderful -- I'm certainly not complaining. But the book may
not won an award, and I got a big advance from America, and I got a lot of publicity. So I was ousted as a woman.
AMANPOUR: And you're a strong woman role model.
ROWLING: Well, that's right. I quite like J.K. I think I -- I wouldn't have chosen it. It's -- and I wouldn't have chosen it for that reason,
either. But I was so grateful to be published.
If they told me to call myself Rupert, I probably would have done so, to be honest with you.
But now I actually quite like having a pen name, because I feel that's -- to an extent, that feels like an identity. And then I'm -- in private
life, I'm Jo Murray, and it feels like quite a nice separation.
AMANPOUR: Well, Jo Murray, J.K. Rowling, thank you very much indeed for joining me.
ROWLING: My absolute pleasure.
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much.
ROWLING: Thank you.