December 2, 2014 -- Dear Friend of DRI, While channel surfing late into the evening, I came across a commercial asking viewers to help rescue abandoned and abused dogs and cats. Singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan made a passionate plea while her haunting ballad “In the Arms of the Angels” played in the background. With sad animals in cages staring into the camera, Sarah begged viewers to make a monthly donation. “They deserve love and a home. They have been neglected and abused.”

According to the New York Times, the gut-wrenching piece raised a record-breaking $30 million for dogs and cats. I remember thinking, “I have seen abandoned and abused children in orphanages, state institutions and social care homes all over the world. I’ve seen children in cages in dozens of countries, children with no homes, children tied to beds and cribs for years. Children tortured and left to die.”

Don’t children with disabilities around the world deserve as much attention and support? Will you help us help them?

Just last month, children with disabilities in Greece were found locked in cages 24/7 at a government run institution. According to a nurse at the facility – which mainly houses children with autism and developmental disabilities – the children “liked” the cages rather than being “permanently tied by their arms and legs to their beds.” These are the horrendous human rights abuses perpetrated against children that we are fighting to abolish. And that is why we have launched our Worldwide Campaign to End the Institutionalization of Children.

Placement in institutions is often a death sentence for children. If they survive childhood, they face a lifetime of isolation, loneliness and abuse. It might seem an insurmountable problem to solve, but quite frankly, it is not. Up to 95% of institutionalized children worldwide have living parents or relatives. Disability and poverty are the two main drivers that push children out of their homes and into orphanages. Most families would keep their children if they had some financial support, were able to send their children to school and had help from their communities. And what would that take? As a society, we must insist that donors support families instead of institutions. Governments, faith-based groups and other donors need to stop funding the building, rebuilding, refurbishing and staffing of orphanages anywhere in the world. I am happy to report we are making headway. UNICEF has supported our Campaign by including it in their recent State of the World’s Children Report.

The European Union and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are responding to our call to stop funding the isolation and segregation of children. And PBS’s program The Visionaries will air a one hour documentary about our work in early 2015 that will showcase our success stories around the world. But that is not enough. We are looking for the “tipping point” – a point in which no organization or government will feel comfortable funding segregation in orphanages that denies children their basic human rights.

We need your help to take on this challenge. We ask for your generous donation and depend on your support. And we need you to do more. You can be part of this global change in a very personal way. You can transform the life of a child today and those yet to be born – help unlock the cage, untie the restraint, re-unite a family.

In addition to your financial support, can you tweet about the children? Put us up on your Facebook page? Tell your friends and colleagues about our work and the children who are suffering? Get students at your school involved? Ask your teens and college students to help our videos to go viral? Perhaps you or someone you know has expertise in media or publishing?  Do you know a celebrity who would speak publicly on our behalf? The possibilities are endless. This is a problem WE can end in our lifetime.

Please join us.

Warmest regards and much love in the New Year.

Laurie Ahern - President Disability Rights International