When Danish aid worker Anja Ringgren Loven rescued Hope in January 2016, the frightened and emaciated 2-year-old weighed just 10 pounds. Now, just three months later, the little boy is 24 pounds — and playing soccer with friends. “He loves eating real food like rice and beans, but dislikes snacks,” Loven’s husband, David Emmanuel Umem, tells Us Weekly. “He loves building little houses with soil and drawing pictures.”
Hope was found roaming the streets of southern Nigeria after his family abandoned him because they believed he was a witch. The child — naked, riddled with worms and close to death — had been surviving on food scraps for eight months. Loven shared a heartbreaking photo on Facebook of Hope sipping from a bottle of water — and the post quickly went viral, gathering thousands of likes and comments. Within two days, Loven and Umem’s organization, African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation, received more than $150,000 in donations for his care.
Now, Hope lives with 35 others in an orphanage run by Loven and Umem. “All the other children are so protective of him, especially the older ones,” Umem tells Us. “Initially Hope was aggressive with everyone, but we have gained his [trust]. Now he is so happy.” Though Umem describes Hope as “bold and active,” he says the toddler suffers from developmental delays as a result of being malnourished. “He plays with toys … that will help him learn the alphabet and numbers,” Umem reveals.
Loven set up her charity in Nigeria to help young people who have been accused of witchcraft. “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 Huffington Post UK in February. “What I saw was so barbaric and terrible and it left a deep impression on me.”
According to UNICEF, belief in witchcraft is widespread in Africa, and those most likely to be accused are boys with physical deformities or conditions such as autism. The Washington Post reported that in the southwestern Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom, there are an estimated 15,000 children who had been labeled witches and abandoned on the streets.