A photo of an aid working giving water to a starving Nigerian child went viral last year, and people around the world dug into their virtual pockets to donate to him. The crowdfunding effort raised $1 million for the sick child and others like him.
The ending is happy, but the details are shocking. The child, Hope, was abandoned in the streets by his parents because they thought he was a witch. For eight months when he was just 2 years old, he had to survive on his own.
It’s a miracle that Hope survived at all. When Danish aid worker Anja Ringgren Lovén found him, he was emaciated and seemed to be at death’s door. The little boy had an incredible will to survive.
Lovén immediately took the boy to the hospital, where he was treated for worms and other ailments. The little fighter slowly recovered as he received daily blood transfusions. He quickly gained weight and began to resemble a healthy 2-year-old.
The donations allow the center to feed, house, educate, and give medical care to the residents of the center. The outpouring of support allowed Hope to have surgery for a genital defect called hypospadias, where the urethra is on the underside of the penis instead of at the end.
Hope is now 3 and ready to start school. By the looks of him, you’d never know he was ever different from any other child. Of course, there are psychological impacts that are harder to heal than the physical damage.
Lovén told the Huffington Post, “When children are being tortured and abused and left alone on the street, it gives a child a lot of terrible trauma they carry around inside. Being rejected by your own family must be the loneliest feeling a child can experience, and I don’t believe that anyone can imagine how that must feel like.”
Lovén was immediately struck by the heartbreaking situation in the Nigerian state Akwa Ibom when she first visited. She says she “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 decided to sell all of her belongings in her native Denmark and move permanently to Nigeria. She wants to give a home to as many of these children as possible who have been accused of being witches.
While she runs a center that cares for several dozen children, she and her husband, David, are building an orphanage that will give them a more permanent base of operations.
While accusing children of witchcraft strikes Westerners as bizarre, it is a common occurrence in this part of Nigeria. Lovén says that “education is the key in the fight against superstition,” and she hopes to educate the local people that no child deserves abandonment.
Lovén adds, “We work on the human nature that every child in the world has the right to food and education, and to live a dignified life. Our values consist of showing sheer compassion, care and love for those who need it the most and through that create confidence.” While doing that, changing attitudes about witchcraft will help bring a more permanent solution to the problem.
Seeing before-and-after photos of Hope prove that Lovén’s organization is achieving tremendous results. While it’s heartbreaking to think that there are thousands like Hope who do not receive help, his story shows how compassion can save a life.
Now that Hope is 3 years old, he’s ready to start school. He no longer worries about where his next meal will come from and can settle into being a child. The all-encompassing love that Lovén has shown him demonstrates a great lesson for the rest of the world. To donate to Lovén’s organization, go to its Facebook page. While you’re there, look for more photos of Hope in his new school outfit.