When Anja Ringgren Lovén first set eyes on Hope, her heart sunk. Here was a two-year-old boy who was so emaciated that he was no bigger than a baby. He’d spent the last eight months all alone, begging for scraps of food. All because his family thought he was a witch.
Not much is known about little Hope’s early life. However, it can’t have been easy. His superstitious family believed that he was a witch. And, as a result, they abandoned him near Uyo in Nigeria, when he was less than two years old.
With no one to look after him, the toddler had to take care of himself while living alone on the streets. During this time he had very limited access to food and water. As a result, his little body began to give up on him.
Unfortunately, Hope’s heartbreaking predicament is not uncommon in Nigeria. In fact, many children are accused of practicing witchcraft in the country every year. Often, families blame these children for their misfortunes, believing that their problems have a spiritual cause.
Families who suspect their child is a witch often believe that they have been put under a hex in order to cause trouble. As a result, families will spend a great deal of money to have them exorcised. However, many of these children will be abandoned, and some will even be beaten or killed.
It’s an issue that has troubled Anja Ringgren Lovén for some time. “I traveled alone to Nigeria, where I met children who had been tortured and beaten almost to death because they were accused of being witches and therefore left alone on the street,” she told The Huffington Post in February 2016. “What I saw was so barbaric and terrible, and it left a deep impression on me.”
Following her eye-opening trip, Lovén sold all her possessions and left her native Denmark to move to Nigeria. There, alongside her husband David Emmanuel Umem, Lovén founded the African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation. The organization helps children who have been branded as witches by their communities.
So when someone spotted Hope wandering the streets and called Lovén, she leapt into action. “When we heard that the child was only two to three years old, we did not hesitate,” she told The Huffington Post. “A child that young cannot survive a long time alone on the streets. We immediately prepared a rescue mission.”
When Lovén found the young boy in January 2016, he was completely naked, walking barefoot down a dirt road. He was so ill that he didn’t look long for this world. The humanitarian bent down to the child’s level and gave him a drink from a water bottle. Lovén later admitted that the encounter shook her to the core.
“I was so sick to my bones to see a two-year-old boy in such a horrible condition,” she told the Daily Mail in April 2016. “I thought I was going to see a bigger boy, but when I saw he was the size of a little baby, my whole body froze. I became a mother myself 20 months ago, and I was thinking of my own son when I saw Hope.”
Later, she posted the rescue on Facebook, and soon her shocking photographs went viral. “Thousands of children are being accused of being witches. We’ve seen the torture of children, dead children and frightened children,” Lovén wrote alongside the images. She also went on to ask for donations towards Hope’s care.
After she had found Hope, Lovén had scooped him up and transported him to a hospital. Once there, doctors treated the youngster for worms. They also gave him regular blood transfusions in order to boost his red cell count.
People around the world were touched by Hope’s story. To date, more than 15,000 people have reacted to Lovén’s post, and generous donations soon began to flood in. Within two days, Lovén had received over $1 million to help pay for the boy’s treatment.
With Hope in the hospital, doctors soon discovered that he suffered from hypospadias. This common birth defect means that the urethra is located somewhere other than the tip of the penis. This causes urine to emerge from somewhere along the shaft.
Luckily, the operation to fix hypospadias is a fairly straightforward one. And, before long, little Hope was fighting fit. In fact, just two months after Lovén found him, Hope looked like a completely different little boy.
“As you can see in the pictures, Hope is really enjoying his life now, having 35 new brothers and sisters who all take such good care of him, play with him, study with him and make sure he is safe and is getting a lot of love,” Lovén wrote on Facebook. In the accompanying images, Hope had gained weight and finally found his smile.
And from there, Hope went from strength to strength. Indeed, he had come back from the brink of death to become a happy and boisterous little boy. Moreover, the donations Lovén received towards his care enabled her to open a specialist orphanage and a doctor’s clinic for other so-called “witch children.”
Then, one year after his rescue, Hope was finally old enough and well enough to start school. Lovén celebrated the special day with a post on Facebook. In it, she reenacted the moment when she and Hope had first met.
However, this time, the happy and healthy child proudly wore a school uniform as he took a sip of water from his rescuer. The inspiring post began to circulate online, and soon thousands of people were sharing the image on Facebook.
With Lovén’s care, Hope’s first day of school is bound to be the first of many milestones that the boy will achieve. Thanks to her, not only has he had access to the best medical care, but he also has a family for the first time in his life. Speaking to the Daily Mail, Lovén said, “Hope is like a son to me. Like the rest of our children I love him more than words can describe.”