Author JK Rowling is known for her work helping underprivileged children, but even I was surprised to read how she’d gone above and beyond the call of duty.
It was 2004 when she read a magazine article - and the story was shocking. It featured a heartbreaking photograph of a boy in a cage, crying out to what must have seemed like a silent world.
The child was called Vasek Knotek and he was around five years old, photographed at a children’s home. He was disabled and he lived in a basement with other boys who had all been kept in inhumane conditions and ‘cared for’ by the state. Vasek had lived that way since birth.
“The image of that boy’s face marked me,” she later explained. “I couldn’t get it, or the story, out of my mind.”
After reading the story, Rowling ripped it out and photocopied it 50 times. Then she wrote letters to everyone she could think of.
Although she was pregnant, and had a toddler, a 10 year-old child and was halfway through writing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, she pushed for change.
It led to the birth of a charity called Lumos, named after a spell that creates the light at the tip of Harry Potter’s wand. Light the world she did, and not only with her literary genius.
Over the following years, she brought hope into the lives of hundreds of children crammed into ‘orphanages’. A dismal legacy of Soviet rule, these children’s homes were, as she put it, more akin to Victorian-style asylums.
They were grim. The children had their heads shaved, so it was hard to tell which were girls and which boys. Children termed as ‘mildly disabled’ slept on wafer-thin mattresses on metal beds, while the more disabled were forced into high-sided cots, with only walls to look at. In winter, the homes were so cold children died. Over a decade, 238 deaths had been recorded at care homes across Bulgaria.
The irony was that many of these children weren’t even orphans. In eastern Europe, parents had been persuaded to give up disabled children and told they probably wouldn’t survive past the first year.
But they did, and now, with the help of Lumos, many are claiming back their lives.
The world is a better place with people like JK Rowling in it.
She’s not only introduced millions of children to the joys of reading, but has saved countless children from a fate worse than death.