Several years ago, the world was shocked to see the frail young Nigerian boy being offered to drink water by a Danish aid worker.
I bet you all remember the photo of the starving little child, as it portrayed the shocking reality of stigmatization and child witch branding in Nigeria.
The dreadful trend is mainly a result of poverty in the area, a lack of education, and superstition, but it still leads to the abandonment and death of numerous children.
In January 2016, Anja Ringgren Lovén from an organization called DINNødhjælp (‘your relief’), found the poor boy on the streets of Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, abandoned after being accused of witchcraft.
The little hero was named Hope. Due to the inhumane conditions he was living in and the maltreatment he suffered, Hope was found in a delicate state, naked, alone and “almost dead”.
Devastated to hear his story, people from all over the world donated over $1million (£801,100) to help him. Hope was quickly taken to hospital to receive medication to treat the worms from his stomach and to get daily blood transfusions.
He quickly gained weight, and later had a surgery for a genital birth defect he had, hypospadias.
A year later, the starving boy made a remarkable recovery and started school, and Anja and her team made a recreation of the first photo to reveal his progress.
The happy boy, dressed in a red school uniform, was ready for his big start.
Anja then wrote:
‘On the 30th of January 2016, I went on a rescue mission with David Emmanuel Umem, Nsidibe Orok, and our Nigerian team. A rescue mission that went viral, and today it’s exactly one year ago the world came to know a young little boy called Hope .‘This week Hope will start school.’
The fantastic news was celebrated by people from all around the world.
Anja and her husband, David Emmanuel Umem, run the African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation, a charity that helps these abandoned children.
Anja and her colleagues struggle to rescue and shelter children labeled as ‘witches.’ Some Nigerian religious leaders accuse children of witchcraft to charge poor families for performing supposed exorcism services.
The old-school beliefs that someone is responsible for negative change and must be punished, are due to the lack of education, religion, and the combination of Christianity and paganism in the community.
Martin Dawes, a spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund, said the trigger for the accuse is sometimes the “death of a relative, the loss of a job, or the denunciation of a pastor.”
These kids are often killed and tortured by their own poverty-stricken parents.
Anja shares pictures of Hope on Facebook from time to time, and she recently posted some that showed him donning his school sports kit, participating in the inter-house sports competition.
In her heart-melting post, she wrote:
“From being branded a witch, abandoned, rejected and stigmatized to representing his school in 100 meters race 💪🏿🏃🏿♂😍 Today, Hope is taking part in his school’s Inter-House Sport Festival and of course he will be representing his team in the 100 meters race🏅🏆 See my little nugget he’s got swag 😂😎”
Nowadays, Hope lives in an orphanage run by Anja and her husband, together with 74 other children.
With adequate care and attention, Hope proved that life can be turned around.
“As you can see Hope is growing with speed and he is such a handsome, healthy and very happy young boy because of the tremendous love and care he receives every day from our staff and all our children. Where there is love there is hope.”
This January, 4 years after they rescued him, she wrote:
“Hope has seen the famous picture of him and I many times. He will point at himself to say that it’s him on the picture, and then he will smile as if he was proud. But I know it’s not about pride. Children are born with the ability to forgive. Children are born with no prejudices. It is when children are taught what to think and not how to think, we fail as a society.
Do we raise Hope to hate his parents that abandoned him, accused him of being a witch and left him alone on the street to die? No, of course not.
Superstition is caused by a lack of structural education, extreme poverty, religious fanaticism, and corruption. No society can develop if its people are deprived of basic human rights such as access to education, health care, and social protection.
Education is the most powerful investment in society and the greatest weapon against ignorance.”
Do you remember the starved boy found in Nigeria in January 2016?
A year later, he started going to school
After being accused of “witchcraft”, the boy, named Hope was left to die by his parents
He was immediately taken to hospital and treated for malnutrition and stomach worms
After 8 months, he started gaining weight
Hope even got a new haircut
After a full recovery, Hope is barely recognizable from before
Hope now lives in an orphanage with other children cast out as ‘witches’
Can this adorable face be accused of anything evil?
Hope is treated with much love at the orphanage, run by Anja Ringgren Lovén and her team
Anja works for DINNødhjælp (‘your relief’), a Danish volunteer organization active in Nigeria
Anja wrote: “All children have rights and those rights must be protected, always”
The love and care they treated Hope with gave him a fresh start