Abandoned on the streets of southern Nigeria, the toddler was in a desperate condition. Dreadfully emaciated, and suffering from a range of horrific diseases, he was facing certain death.
‘I was so sick to my bones to see a two-year-old-boy in such a horrible condition’ reflects Anja Ringgren Loven, a Danish care worker who is based in the state of Akwa Ibom. She immediately organised for the infant to be admitted to hospital.
It quickly became clear that his chances of survival were very slim. Several months of fending for himself on the streets had clearly taken their toll, and his tiny body was infested with ringworms. However, Anja never accepted defeat and named the child Hope. ‘Very quickly we discovered that Hope was a very strong boy. A little fighter’ she observed. Thankfully Hope responded well to treatment and is now a healthy happy little boy who readily participates in activities with local children.
This miraculous story of triumph over adversity is a fitting testament to the endeavours of Anja and her team in the region. Three years ago she founded African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation (ACAEDF) which aims to support abandoned children like Hope who roam the streets of southern Nigeria. The reason behind this tragic phenomenon lies in the complex culture of the region, and will strike many in the modern developed world as being bizarre.
A strong belief in witchcraft and magic is commonplace for the superstitious peoples of Akwa Ibom and Hope was labelled as being a witch by his family. ‘Once a child has been accused of being a witch, there is no turning back’ explains Anja. The reason why a family or village may suspect a child of being malevolent varies considerably. Crop failure, financial hardship, or a family illness may all be attributed in some way to the newly born child. This pre-historical practice may be absurd to westerners, but it is inextricably woven into the customs and traditions of the tribes.
If a child is considered to have brought bad luck upon his or her family and village, the reaction of the locals is terrifying. ‘Villagers will call for the child to be exorcised nightly by the local priest to rid him of his evil spirits’ divulges Anja. It might seem like something from a spine-chilling horror novel, but ACAEDF have been set up to tackle this cruel practice. Being stigmatized as a witch, is in fact a perpetual problem for many throughout Africa.
Anja’s charity not only provides direct assistance to abandoned and neglected children like Hope, it also aims to tackle the scourge of ignorance in southern Nigeria. ‘Education is the key in the fight against superstition’ proclaims Anja, and she is totally committed to liaising with local communities to secure positive change. ‘We work on the human nature that every child in the world has the right to food, and to education and to live a dignified life.’
Hope’s story has inspired many throughout the world to support African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation. Indeed, within days of launching an online appeal for assistance, Anja was delighted to receive over $1 million dollars of donations. ‘My team and I are so overwhelmed by all the love we are receiving from all over the world’ she gratefully stated.