Aid worker who rescued a toddler accused of witchcraft shares the story behind the viral photo.

When Danish aid worker Anja Ringgren Loven found emaciated Nigerian toddler “Hope” in January, she did not expect him to survive.

The three-year-old had been abandoned by his family after he was accused of being a witch and had survived on scraps for eight months.

“When I turned around and I saw Hope I was really in shock,” she told the BBC’s Outlook.

“He was like a skeleton and I was even surprised that he was breathing. And I was so surprised that he could stand up.”

Despite being on the cusp of starvation and riddled with worms, the tiny child began to dance as he saw the group of foreign aid workers approaching him.

 

The photo of  Hope and Anja that broke the world's heart. Source: Facebook

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"I think that was his way of reaching out for help."

A photograph of the moment Anja knelt down to offer the boy a sip of her water and a biscuit quickly spread worldwide and was the beginning of Hope's near-miraculous transformation.

"I was not aware that the picture of me giving Hope water was going to go viral and go crazy all over the world. It was a big shock for all of us," Anja said.

"People were crying, people could not even look at the picture it was so terrible. It was like it was a wake up call for Europeans or the Western world."

In the just a few months, millions of dollars in donations flooded in and Hope became the healthy, happy little boy he is today.

Anja had always dreamed of travelling to Africa, she told the BBC, but it was watching a documentary about children in the Niger Delta Region being abandoned, tortured and even killed because of accusations of witchcraft which convinced her to move there.

A recent photo of Anja and Hope. Source: Facebook

Shortly after her 30th birthday she gave up her life in Denmark, sold all her possessions and travelled to Nigeria, where she launched not-for-profit African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation, which runs a children’s centre to provide medical care, food and education for children wrongfully labelled as witches.

She found Hope when a man from his village calked the centre to alert them of the two-year-old's rapidly deteriorating condition.

Disguised as missionaries hoping to buy dog meat, she and her team drove to the village and pretended to stumble on him by accident.

"I know that some of these villagers they have been looking at him with tears in their eyes but they have not had any chance to do anything because they have been afraid of helping a child who has been accused of being a witch because it can affect them and even their own children," she said.

"Even though people they outcast the child it does not mean they want you take it. You need to somehow get a feeling of do they want us to take or not and so I just started by saying can I give him some water? And he said, 'yeah yeah please give him, he's thirsty, he's hungry'."

Hope on the way to the hospital. Source: Facebook

 

"I bent down and I gave him the water and my biscuit and people were laughing and cheering and I took him in a blanket, 'Let's get the hell out of here'".

She then carried him to the bus, slammed the door shut and drove off.

"In the car, that's when I now decided to call him Hope," she said.

"Because the breathing was so heavy and you could see all his bones and I was just thinking where to bury this boy. I was so sure he was going to die."

She says she chose the name hope because she wanted him to survive so strongly.

She also has the word tattooed across her fingers — an acronym to remind her to 'help one person everyday.'

Hope did survive and, nearly a year later on, he is almost unrecognisable.

 

Anja has the world "HOPE" tattooed on her fingers. Source: Facebook

"He is very, very fine. He is a very strong little boy," Anja said.

"We think he must be three-year-old and he's very big now. He's gained a lot of weight. And he will start nursery school next month."

Asked if she ever regretted giving up her life in Denmark, she said it was the opposite.

"Today I can look back and my team and I we have rescued so many children, children who would be dead today if we had not been there."

You can listen to Anja's full Outcast interview here.

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