These photos shows the remarkable recovery of a boy who was rescued minutes from death when his family left him to starve – because they believed he was a WITCH.
Hope was aged two when he was found starving by the roadside in the state of Akwa Ibom in Nigeria where he had been abandoned.
He was one of many victims of extreme religious and poor parents who blame bad luck on the devil possessing their kids – turning them into witches.
Emaciated and fighting for his life, he was taken in by Anja Ringgren Loven, now 42, and a photo of her holding a water bottle to his lips went viral.
They feared the skeletal toddler wouldn’t survive the day or the journey to the hospital.
Five years on, he is living with the charity Land of Hope and the now seven-year-old is unrecognisable.
New pictures show he’s healthy – and even a budding artist nicknamed ‘mini Picasso’.
Land of Hope founder Anja and her partner, David Emmanuel Umem, 30, led the rescue mission in 2016 which saved Hope’s life.
Anja, who is originally from Denmark, said: “When we got to this little boy, he was smelling of death. I thought he would die in my arms.
“We couldn’t believe his age – how can anyone think a child is a threat at two years old?
“We don’t know how he pulled through, but he did – and this year we’ll be celebrating his fifth year with us.
“Hope is such a sweet and caring little boy, and he does really well at school. He’s very creative too – we call him our little Picasso.
“He’s also very cheeky and confident – he and our son David Junior are always running around together, laughing and causing mischief.
“You wouldn’t recognise him from the child we rescued five years ago – he is amazing in so many ways.”
Hope is one of the 76 children in their care who have been rescued after they were accused of witchcraft, and was one of their youngest rescues.
They live there with Hope and the 75 other Nigerian children they’ve rescued from abandonment because of superstitious beliefs.
Established by Anja in 2012, Land of Hope is an NGO fighting superstitions about witchcraft which result in young children being abandoned by their families.
Anja lives at the Land of Hope centre in Akwa Ibom, with David, who is a director of another humanitarian NGO in Nigeria, and their six-year-old son, David Junior.
Anja and partner David, who is a director of a humanitarian aid NGO called African Children’s Aid Education And Development Foundation, recovered him from the brink of death five years ago, aged just two.
They first came to hear of Hope when David received a tip-off about an abandoned two-year-old on the roadside – and Anja said when they heard how young he was, they couldn’t believe it.
She said: “Normally we rescue children that are at least four or five – we couldn’t understand how anyone could have thought a two-year-old was a threat.”
Anja explained that superstitious beliefs are prevalent in Nigeria, and young children are held responsible for misfortune in a family – because they are believed to practice witchcraft.
This was how tiny Hope, whose name, chosen by Anja, stands for ‘Help One Person Everyday’, ended up starving and helpless on a street in the state of Akwa Ibom.
Anja said: “I remember asking David where we’d bury Hope, we were sure he wouldn’t survive.
“He was so weak – I gave him a little carton of juice and he didn’t even have the strength to lift it to his mouth.”
Hope survived the journey and spent three months in the hospital, where Anja, David and David Jr, just a year younger than Hope, would visit him every day until he was strong enough to come and live at Land of Hope.
They learned early on that Hope had hearing and speech problems – which Anja said could explain his abandonment because children with disabilities are much more likely to be victim to superstitions.
But that never stopped him from playing with David Jr, Anja and David’s son, and they quickly became best buddies – which they still are today, five years later.
Hope has been attending school since he was three – where Anja said he is “highly intelligent” and top in his class in writing and spelling – and his hearing and speech problems have never held him back.
Anja says he also has a “very creative mind” and a passion for art, so much so that they call him their ‘little Picasso’.
She said: “He’s smart and talented, a real little genius – but he’s also very sweet and caring.
“He definitely has a sense of humour too – Hope and David Junior are always running around together and causing trouble.”
“He is unrecognisable from that little boy we rescued five years ago.”