Dear J.K. Rowling

First off: It’s an honor to write you this letter, imagining through some twist of Internet magic that you might actually see it. If that happens, let me just say: I’m a huge fan. Like the rest of the world, I loved your Harry Potter series and enjoyed reading each book out loud to my captivated children. It was a parental highlight I will always cherish.

Actually, to be honest, I read aloud all but the last book. By then, my son and daughter were too impatient to wait for my dramatic recital, so we bought three copies of The Deathly Hallows at midnight. Such is the power of a good story.

As you know better than most anyone, stories can change the world. The words we choose—like the spells in your books—are powerful, especially when they come from someone as influential as you. Which is why I found the introduction video on the home page of your Lumos Foundation website so disheartening.

Now I’m certainly not against your desire to protect vulnerable children and provide solutions for them, as your Foundation’s tagline states. In fact, I’m all for it. For the past three years, I’ve been doing the same work, spending a majority of my time and creative energy advocating for orphaned and abandoned children worldwide. I’m also not against the Lumos mission to support families rather than institutions. In my own work, I’ve seen plenty of corrupt orphanages whose only purpose seems to be to profit off the unlucky children in their care. This has to stop. Your efforts to end all of these brutal, loveless group homes…to reunify and support families whenever possible…to create community solutions and social services where none exist…on all these fronts I applaud you. If there’s any way I can help, just let me know.

But there is one point I’d like to make, refuting the implication in your Foundation’s introduction video, and that is this:

Not all orphanages are bad.

Jyotika_ReadingThroughout the world (and I’ve seen this with my own eyes, my own heart), there are committed people filling desperate gaps in a broken system with boundless love and tireless energy. These people are heroes not villains. They are providing hope in hopeless stories, shining a light in the darkness, sacrificing everything so that a few children can shine. They are part of the solution, not the problem.

Sure, orphanage care is not as perfect as the “nuclear family” ideal we’d all hope for—but this ideal is a fantasy for many. The world is crowded, right now, with abused, vulnerable, orphaned, abandoned, unloved, unwanted children who need an answer today. And I can say from first-hand experience, that the answer exists in some orphanages I have seen.

My favorite is the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission in Banbasa India. I’ve lived at the GSAM on and off for much of the past three years. The Mission is a large orphanage eight hours east of Delhi on the Nepal border and has been operating since 1948. There are currently seventy children in their care, ages six to eighteen, and they come from a variety of different backgrounds.

Rosie-an-Ayushi-ReadingAbout 20% are actual orphans (as your own statistics predicted), but others left equally desperate situations. One young girl was delivered from her abusive home where she was being prostituted for groceries…three small children were admitted not long before their mother was murdered by their dangerous father…starving twins were offered at the gates like unwanted loaves of bread by a mother with ten other hungry girls at home.

Some escaped poverty so crushing they arrived mere days from death. Others with severe handicaps were brought by police when they were found abandoned in the street. No children are taken casually to fill beds. All money raised is used to better Mission life for everyone, not line the pockets of the greedy directors. In every way, The Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission is the opposite of the wicked stereotype most orphanages are portrayed to be, and deserves our respect and support, not our blanket condemnation.

Caring for the world’s vulnerable children is a complicated challenge. Yes, families should be kept together whenever possible. But all families, like all orphanages, are not the loving stable homes we might wish them to be. In our work to ensure that all children thrive, we need all options on the table. Reunification when heathy and possible; adoption; foster care; and yes, even group care when led with love and dedication. Painting all orphanages with the same evil brush dishonors the good ones that are out there. It’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater…and the bath tub…and the bathroom…and the house that the baby lives in.

I say this all with the utmost respect and admiration for you. Please keep up the good work, and remember this: If you doubt anything I have said or would like to see it with your own eyes, I invite you and your family to visit the Mission here in India. The reading-age kids are all fans of your work (as the two dog-eared Potter anthologies can attest), and I know they would be beyond thrilled to have Harry’s literary mother shine a little light on them.

John Marshall
Banbasa, India

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