"Hello and welcome to this very special gala performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! I’m not going to detain you long and there will be no spoilers. I really couldn’t be prouder of what you’re about to see and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, every time I watch it.
It’s been an incredibly emotional experience for me to revisit the character of Harry Potter as an adult and a father. The story you’re about to see is primarily about family: about what it means to us, even when it’s imperfect, which it has to be, because we are all of us imperfect. The original seven Harry Potter books told a story about love, the absence of it and the need for it: a boy who came from a childhood of loss and longing who had to grapple with what is most real and important in the world, without parents to help him make sense of it all.
It isn’t a secret that Harry Potter drew heavily on my own experience of bereavement, but I was twenty-five when I lost my mother and I was fortunate enough to have her all through my childhood and teens. Through the work I’ve been privileged to do with Lumos over the past decade, I’ve come to have a new understanding of why those of us with imperfect families have far better chances of surviving this difficult world than those who don’t.
Lumos, which many of you will know as the light-giving spell in Harry Potter, is a charity I founded to help the eight million children who are growing up worldwide in institutions.
It is the most staggering statistic. Eight million children. It’s such a gigantic number that is seems almost unfathomable.
In the developed world, where the practise of placing children in institutions is dying out, we often hear talk of the ‘orphanages’ that exist in poorer countries. This conjures a certain mental picture, of parentless children who would otherwise be on the streets. We’re encouraged to give money to these orphanages and even to volunteer for a few weeks in them, feeding and cuddling children who have learned to take affection where they can get it.
Now here is the unspeakable tragedy of those eight million children. An estimated 80% of them having at least one living parent.
How can that be? Why would they be institutionalised if they have a parent? The Westerner often assumes that there must have been a lack of love or care if a child could be given up to a care home without being orphan.
Here’s the truth: the number one reason that children are institutionalised is poverty. Overwhelmingly, children become detached from their parents because the system in their country – a system propped up by the donations of well-intentioned donors – offers food and education only to the poorest children if they enter institutions.
And those institutions, as countless studies have shown, damage their inmates, sometimes beyond repair. Eighty years of research agrees that children raised in institutions suffer physically, intellectually and emotionally. A recent study suggested that one in seven are likely to be involved in prostitution when they leave, one in five will go on to have a criminal record and one in ten – ONE IN TEN – will kill themselves.
There are multiple challenges in changing a system that is so damaging to so many children, but this is a solvable problem. Lumos believes that by 2050, we can end child institutionalisation.
We work with governments and to show this can be done, partnering with on-the-ground experts who are as keen as we are to see global change. We advocate for children at the highest international levels; we help the money flow in the right direction to create community-based services that support families; and we work with individual children to get them back home, where they belong.
In the last six years, Lumos has:
You’ve supported our ever-increasing work by being here today. I’ve covered all core costs, so 100% of the money you have donated goes direct to Lumos’s programmes.
Children need, deserve and have a right to families. Thank you, from everyone at Lumos, for helping us achieve our ambition of bringing 8 million children back into the light. It is, to paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, not easy, but it is right."
If you would like to purchase a Be The Light T-shirt, as worn by the cast, visit Reprent's website here.