Five-year-old twins, Itohowo and Kufre were still hanging around close to their mother's shack, obviously malnourished, dressed in filthy rags. They had been sleeping in the market, eating scraps of food off the ground. Approaching the boys brought a crowd of villagers, including their mother, who stood around shouting: 'Take them away from us, they are witches.' 'Take them away before they kill us all.' 'Witches!'. We take the children away from their home and family. They get into the car without speaking, they do not cry and when we drive off, they do not look back.

05 Apr Finding Hope: One Boy’s Story

I’m always blown away by the power of stories.

At their best, when they are used to do something good, stories can bring us together, connect us to distant people, touch our hearts, inspire us to act. More than bombs, more than money, words, photos and videos are the most powerful tools to create change on the planet today. Add in the Internet, and this change can happen faster than ever

Here’s one example I haven’t been able to get out of my mind this week. A friend posted it on Facebook and it’s haunted me ever since.

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Anja Ringgren Lovén and the boy she met in Lagos, Nigeria.

A few months ago, a Danish aid worker named Anja Ringgren Lovén was walking through a small town in Nigeria when she came across a little boy. The boy was naked, clearly starving, all alone at just two years old.

Anja stopped and a companion filmed the scene. “Can we give the child some food?” Anja can be heard asking on the video. “No food. No mother,” a local replies, explaining the boy’s condition. Here’s the original footage.


As it turns out, the boy was abandoned after having been accused of being a witch. I guess child witches are a thing in some part of Africa. Mixing Christianity and local superstitions, some profiteering churches are now finding witches in every pew, demanding absurdly high fees be paid to cast the little demons out.

As if this isn’t bad enough, these accusations have served to fan a growing fear of witchcraft in countries like Gambia, Congo, Angola and many others, with maladies of all types now being blamed on this growing army of evil children. When crops fail or a family member dies, it’s obviously not God’s will or an act of nature, it’s your beautiful daughter’s or your newborn son’s fault, because of all their cavorting with Satan.

Who comes up with this stuff?

And what happens if poor parents can’t pay for a professional exorcism? Sadly, they often resort to various home remedies, burning their children or starving them, torturing them to cleanse their souls. Some children are killed outright to protect the family. Others are turned out into the street, like the little boy in the video.

When the camera found him, he’d been living alone for two months. Apparently, the community at large also feared his witchiness, as no one offered to help him. He was starving to death, naked at their feet, as they puttered about their daily business.

When Anja showed up, she wrapped the boy in a blanket and took him home with her. No one objected. She found he was riddled with worms (not demons), so she took care of those. Then she fed him and plumped him up. She gave him a name: Hope. After just two months, he now looks like this. Amazing what a little love and care can do.

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Photos: facebook.com/anja.loven

If you’re feeling a rush of compassion in your heart, you are not alone. When Hope’s story appeared on Anja’s Facebook page, the world rallied. In the past 8 weeks, more than one million Danish krone ($150,000 US) has been donated to Anja’s organization, African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation, working to defend Africa’s child witches and educate/stop the people who label them in the first place.

Stories have the power to transform the world. They change the way we see things, alter the very future we enter into. Just like Hope. To the world, he is not a lost, withered outcast any longer. Not only is he safe, he is a symbol, a turning point, perhaps. An inspiration to a world hungry to be inspired.

One story at a time.

You can learn more about child witches by watching the documentary Saving Africa’s Witch Children by Mags Gavin and Joost van der Valk.  The video features Gary Foxcroft and his UK-based organization The Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIH) that has been working to help these children since 2008.

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