Utopia doesn’t exist, not by itself. A utopian world is created. Anja Ringgren Lovén and her husband David with their team of rescue workers in Nigeria have slowly and steadily been creating such a world for the children accused of witchcraft (termed witch-children) in Nigeria’s Delta Region.
The brave work of Anja and her team caught the world’s attention when the photograph of a dehydrated child who was all skin and bones being fed water gently by Anja went viral. It is a disturbing photograph that tells the tales of these innocent witch-children who have been out casted and forced to live on dry, barren land, helplessly hiding in bushes from people who are bent on beheading them, killing them or torturing them because of dangerous superstitious beliefs.
From a very young age I developed a very strong fascination with African children and my whole life I had a dream to someday help them and make a difference in Africa.”
A Danish citizen, she was raised by her mother who worked in an elderly home, and inculcated in Anja the importance of taking care of people in need. Anja from a young age harboured a dream to visit and see in depth the real African countries and help the children there. She says, “From a very young age I developed a very strong fascination with African children and my whole life I had a dream to someday help them and make a difference in Africa.” But only after her mother’s death, when she was just 23, she began to feel a strong yearning to do something worthwhile with her life. A documentary about witch-children in Africa stuck with her, and she was finally motivated to take the big and bold step.
She had a good life in Denmark, with a thriving social circle and successful job, but she sold all her belongings and got in touch with the people who worked on the rescue missions. And that was the beginning of Anja – the Lady of HOPE, a white skinned, blond haired woman, a complete outsider with an African heart, who had relentless energy and motivation to help these abandoned children.
They have been on more than 300 rescue missions and they know how to operate in these environments. Most times I need to wait in the car while they go out and make sure that there is no danger.”
After six years of hard work and dedication, she and her team with the help of various donations, her NGO – DinNoedhjaelp and African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation (ACAEDF) bought a huge piece of land in Nigeria last year, where they are currently building a new Children’s Centre in collaboration with ‘Engineers Without Borders’, Denmark. She says, “In the future we are not only going to run a children’s centre but also a health clinic and educational centre.” Anja truly believes that education can curb the superstitions that cast a dark shadow over the country. That’s why one of the first things done after the rescue is putting the children in a school. She says it helps give the children confidence and builds their character, allowing them to integrate into society.
What I know today is what David has taught me. When I see him fight for justice and risk his own life on rescue missions I see a dreamer. I see a thinker and I see a creator. He is the creator behind our work. He has created a safe haven for the children.”
Anja though, doesn’t think of herself as a hero. For her the real heroes are her husband, whom she met in Nigeria and their team. “They have been on more than 300 rescue missions and they know how to operate in these environments. Most times I need to wait in the car while they go out and make sure that there is no danger.”
Her husband, David, is the foundation stone of all her efforts. Talking about him, she says, “What I know today is what David has taught me. When I see him fight for justice and risk his own life on rescue missions I see a dreamer. I see a thinker and I see a creator. He is the creator behind our work. He has created a safe haven for the children.”
I don’t care for material things and in Africa I found peace. I found out that this is where I belong.”
She doesn’t regret her decision of moving to Nigeria and making it home (spending just 3 months in Denmark), because of her changed perspective on life. “I don´t care for material things and in Africa I found peace. I found out that this is where I belong.”
But given the nature of her job, Anja does have days when it gets difficult. She witnesses on the regular innocent children being subjected to gross atrocities, and it takes a toll. “I have seen children being tortured and it has left deep scars in my heart and I will always be affected by all the horrors I have seen in Nigeria for the last four years. But I’m not the one suffering. It´s the children that are suffering, so, I don´t have the right to complain. When days are difficult I have my husband and our team members to give me strength and courage. And the smiles on the faces of our children give me energy and power to get up every day and work hard so that more children can be rescued in the future.”
Expressing how she feels about her work, Anja says, “Everyday I see how hard our team and staff in Nigeria work for the children. I see how they change the mindset of the children and how they have turned each one of them into brave, educated and strong individuals full of love and self esteem. Our success is the result of their hard work, loyalty, and persistence. I’m lucky to be a part of a team full of so much passion, dedication and strong commitment.”
In all the vices of the world children are the most vulnerable. They hardly have a voice. Only people like us can give them that voice.”
Dreams are built on persistence and hard work, but a dream for you can be a form of utopia for another. Therefore, making sacrifices and working with determination Anja Ringgren Lovén is building her dream and that of others saying, “In all the vices of the world children are the most vulnerable. They hardly have a voice. Only people like us can give them that voice. This is the reason African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation was formed. To give children a voice, fight for their rights and give them HOPE for a brighter future.”
Find your space in this world, be it on a stool in a tattoo parlour with a tattoo gun, in the kitchen getting ready to sell your baked goodies or in a jeep on dusty roads leading to a poor village in Nigeria. It is your life, make it worthwhile. Make the Bold move to fulfil your dreams.