Anja Ringgren Lovén and DINNødhjælp. You may have heard the names before. But who is Anja Ringgren Lovén really and how does she relate to DINNødhjælp? Read about how a young Danish woman ended up fighting superstition and rescuing so-called witch children in one of the world’s most dangerous countries and started her own Non-Profit Organization.
A noticeable difference
Anja Ringgren Lovén sits together with Asuquo and Rita on the stairs to the kitchen at Land of Hope. The three talk about school and the future. The air is moist, with light wind and there is +35 degrees. Asuquo is visiting Land of Hope, as he is now living on campus and studying law at the university. He smiles and talks about all the parties and the hard examinations with pride in his voice. Anja smiles back at him. It is her NPO that has made the difference to Asuquo.
Armed protection 24 hours a day
Asuquo is just one of the 67 children who lived or lives at Anja’s children’s center in southern Nigeria. The center is three acres, it is newly built and it is a lot of life and play. Nevertheless, Anja is surrounded by armed guards 24 hours a day and they accompany her everywhere. After Anja became world-renowned, she became a target of kidnapping.
Nigeria is one of the world’s most dangerous countries, and Westerners are advised not to travel there. But Danish Anja from Frederikshavn has lost her heart to this place and the Nigerian so-called witch children.
Witch children and the fight against superstition
The children that Anja Ringgren Lovén save, have all been accused of being witches, regardless of who has accused them and what the reason may be, means that the children should be banished. Not only are they banished from their communities, but also from their families. Families do not dare anything else, for the fear of also being accused. And there are reasons to fear the consequences. The “witch” will most often be subjected to torture in the most terrible forms, poisoning, knife stabs, and starvation. The ruling supremacy dictates the expulsion of demons and evil spirits. The survival is rare for children that is being tortured. But Anja and DINNødhjælp are determined to reach the children and save them.
Anja and DINNødhjælp is firmly convinced that the superstition must be combated with information and education. Until superstition is defeated through knowledge, development and progress in the country, the children at Land of Hope is guaranteed a safe upbringing and education.
No other organization has previously targeted their action against the witch children before Anja Ringgren Lovén took the matter in her own hands and started her own non-profit organization, DINNødhjælp. But she could not have done it without support from her homebase; friends and family. The benefits of having an own organization are many, but the most beneficial one is to know that every donation received goes to what they are supposed to: save and help Nigeria’s witch children.
“There are children starving in Africa”
For Anja, it was not an option to turn the deaf ear and hope it all went by itself. After she saw a documentary about witch children she was overwhelmed by frustration and shock, Anja asked herself, “Why isn’t anybody doing anything?” “Why is nobody talking loudly about it when thousands of children die every year as a result of the accusations?” And “someone must do something”. The documentary woke a wish from her youth to make a difference for the children of Africa.
From childhood, she learned from her mother what empathy means – and that children starved in Africa. The latter Anja’s mother used to tell her and her twin sister when they did not eat their dinner.
Care and understanding of people’s different living conditions were thus founded in Anja’s childhood. Anja got to travel to both Malawi and Tanzania after high school. Here she lived with crowded families in their homes. To feel the overriding hunger on their own body and to see it on the children made an indelible impression. The knowledge and insight Anja gained from this stay constituted a stepping stone for her and the witch childrens future.
The love and the fruit thereof
Back at Land of Hope, Asuquo and Rita nods to Anja’s praising words about the big soccer pitch with the new goals. Next to the track, four flags are waving in the wind: one for Nigeria, one for Denmark, one with DINNødhjælp’s logo and one with ACAEDF’s logo (DINNødhjælp’s sister organization in Nigeria).
Suddenly David calls for Anja, he needs her help. David and Anja has a son together, David Jr.. Although Anja did not come to Africa to find a boyfriend, David impressed her with his great experience and passion for fighting for children’s rights. Friendship developed into love and today David Jr. knows every airport between Nigeria and Denmark.
Important to do things correctly
When the superstition still prevails in Nigeria, it’s Anja’s view that it is due to massive poverty and lack of education. There is no need to point fingers, but all reason to enlighten. Today, most villages know her and DINNødhjælp. It makes a difference when children are accused and are losing their lives because the villages and witch doctors can contact Anja and let her take the children with the necessary permission from the Nigerian authorities. With David, who is soon a graduate lawyer, they have the rules and regulations under control. Things need to be done after the book to avoid corruption and fatal clashes with the police and the authorities.
Facts about removing a child from his family in Nigeria
- You cannot collect a child from a village, even if the child is accused of being a witch. It’s kidnapping.
- Before a child is collected from his family and village, a number of public documents must be in order. There may be several days before the documents are completed.
- The good relationship with local villages and witch doctors is of great importance. When a child becomes “approved to come with Anja” by the village and the witch doctor, it is ensured that cooperation works forward if new witch accusations should arise.
Land of Hope, a secure base for a good future
The way to live and work in Nigeria is a world unlike Danish conditions. The Danish engineers who designed “Land of Hope” found this out quite fast. They believed that it would take several years to open the childrens center. It only took the Nigerian craftsmen a single year.
And in just one year, Anja Ringgren Lovén and DINNødhjælp could make a future different for the children who are innocent victims of the superstition. Witches, who, according to the superstition, are guilty of the crops failing, villagers become sick or farm animals die.
DINNødhjælp has already saved 67 children. They have received medical attention, care, love and a safe environment. Equally important is that they are guaranteed education and skills for life with support from DINNødhjælp.
DINNødhjælp in the world’s spotlight
There has been an increased media attention about the witches and Anja’s work. Dalai Lama invited Anja for a visit in autumn 2017, and here he called her “one of his heroes.” Which is quite an achievement. Just as it was when Anja was named the world’s most inspiring person in 2016 by OOOM Magazine. Barack Obama became No. 2 on the same list.
The outside world’s recognition and the tangible evidence that Anja and DINNødhjælp’s work makes a real difference, is important in the daily work.
But without the help of many volunteers, support from memberships, single donations, sponsors and other help, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
They are all the reason why Asuquo and Rita now rise from Anja’s safe arms and run over to the football field. There is a match to be won.