Sophie Ellis-Bextor Heartbroken by Visit to Orphanages in Ukraine
Sophie Ellis-Bextor was left heartbroken after meeting disabled children in Ukrainian orphanages, and shocked to meet others who had been separated from their family due to poverty and poor eyesight.
The singer visited Ukraine in early May in her new role as Ambassador for international children’s charity, Lumos, the organisation founded by J.K. Rowling to help children trapped in orphanages around the world.
Sophie visited an orphanage in Ukraine for children with visual impairment and was surprised to meet children as young as six living in an institution because they wear glasses. These children are classed as having special educational needs and are unable to go to mainstream schools, so their parents are forced to send them to special institutions, far away from their families.
Sophie said, “As a mother I can’t imagine having to choose whether to keep my child at home or send them away for an education simply because they have to wear glasses.”
“The kids had no toys, they had no personality to their living quarters, no time that was their own. When are they having one-on-one time with a grown-up? You can’t emphasize enough the impact of love and nurture and those nuances that let people be individuals.”
“If you close your eyes and try to imagine a really decrepit, old-school and fundamentally failing orphanage for the disabled, this is exactly what you’d imagine. It doesn’t work on any level. It’s pretty horrific,” said Sophie Ellis-Bextor after visiting a second orphanage for 3 to 35-year-olds with intellectual disabilities. The boys and men are housed together, often unsupervised, and many of the boys demonstrate disturbed behaviour due to the unsuitable living conditions, emotional neglect and lack of stimulation.
In Ukraine there are more than 100,000 children living in orphanages and institutions, but over 90 per cent of them have a living parent who, in many cases, could care for their children given appropriate support. The vast majority of children are growing up in orphanages due to poverty, disability and lack of community-based services and support. Children with disabilities are often excluded from mainstream schools, there is limited access to services for vulnerable children and their families, and strong resistance to reform from existing orphanage staff- all factors that contribute to Ukraine having one of the highest rates of child institutionalisation in the region.
The Regional Authority, that is responsible for orphanages in the area of Ukraine that Sophie visited, has committed to reforming the care system for children in the region and providing services for vulnerable children to stay in families.
Sophie also travelled to Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, where great strides have been made in closing down orphanages and supporting children to grow up in families. Sophie visited a school that provides inclusive education for children with disabilities; she met with a 14-year-old boy who has been reunited with his family after spending years living in an orphanage; she visited a Small Group Home (a family-like setting for children who cannot be fostered or reunited with their families); and she met Lumos Youth Ambassadors who grew up in orphanages and now advocate for care system reform. Lumos, along with other national and international organisations, has helped Moldova reduce the number of children in institutions by 86% since 2007.
“I am so happy and excited to be working with Lumos. I love the scale and the ambition of their objective - aiming to abolish children’s orphanages and institutions worldwide by 2050. I’m completely behind doing whatever I can to help them achieve this and getting those children reunited with their families,” said Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have Sophie Ellis-Bextor join Lumos as our newest Ambassador. Sophie has been a passionate advocate for children, both in the UK and globally, for many years. We are extremely fortunate to have Sophie’s support as we strive to end the institutionalisation of all children,” said Georgette Mulheir, Lumos CEO. “With Sophie’s incredible voice, her global reach, and her deep understanding of the importance of family, we could not be more excited to partner with her to draw attention to the plight of children in institutions.”
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