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Author Rowling getting involved in Romania

Publication: Centre Daily USA ( www.centredaily.com )
Date: Jan 26 2006

Associated Press

BUCHAREST, Romania - When "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling saw a newspaper photo of a child in a caged bed in the Czech Republic almost two years ago, her initial instinct was to turn the page.

"I was pregnant ... and vulnerable in the way that a pregnant woman is to those kind of issues regarding children," Rowling said. "It was an awful image and I almost didn't want to let it into my head."

But Rowling forced herself to look. And that experience persuaded the 40-year-old British writer - whose Harry Potter books have sold more than 300 million copies worldwide - to use her fame to help children in need in the Czech Republic, Romania and elsewhere.

"The next second I thought 'well you just need to read this article and if it's as bad as it looks, you have to do something about it' and that's why I am doing it," she said in an interview with the Associated Press at the British Council in Bucharest .

Rowling wrote to the Czech government in July 2004 complaining about the practice of restraining children in caged beds in the country's psychiatric facilities, which spurred the government to restrict their use.

Rowling's interest in child welfare in the region did not stop there. She became a trustee in January of a new Bucharest-based foundation called the Children's High Level Group, which raises money for children in need and promotes childcare reforms in Romania .

" Romania is a model for other countries hoping to reform ... Romania was the state that acknowledged there was a problem and set out to do something about it," said Rowling, dressed in a duck-egg blue suit and brown suede boots.

Romanian orphanages first came to world's attention after the 1989 downfall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. In an effort to boost Romania 's population of 23 million, Ceausescu banned birth control and abortion, which led to thousands of infants being left in state institutions.

Following his execution, televised pictures of malnourished orphans living in squalor, many suffering from AIDS, were broadcast around the world.

There are about 32,000 children in Romanian state institutions, two-thirds of them teenagers, down from more than 100,000 when Ceausescu was ousted. The country has closed large institutions in recent years, placing children in foster care and extended families.

Rowling was in Bucharest for two days this week, meeting some of the country's institutionalized children. She was guest of honor at a celebrity gala held at Ceausescu's former palace which raised more than €170,000 (US$209,000) for the foundation.

Rowling, who shuns the trappings of celebrity and has three children aged 1, 3 and 12, said fame has one great advantage: "You can parlay that kind of interest in you personally into awareness of issues you'd like to raise," she said.

Before focusing on the plight of children, Rowling worked with programs to fight multiple sclerosis, the disease that killed her mother, and charities for one-parent families, having been a single mother.



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