Interview With Anja Ringgren Lovén
On the eve of every new year, many persons around the world still have celebrations stuck to their tongues. It was the case in January 30th, 2016, when the internet spoke a viral language. It was a celebration of what would turn out to be an incredible turn-around for a community of troubled/troubling children in Awka Ibom State, Nigeria. That day, millions of people around the world watched, with a tint of excitement mixed with concern, the picture of a Danish woman, feeding a two years old child in rural Nigeria accused of witchcraft.
One would expect that superstitious beliefs in 21st century Nigeria is never a thing to worry about. A closer look at the ‘Land of Hope’ family in Eket, Akwa Ibom State would convince anyone otherwise. This land has become an astonishing, yet an encouraging story of how narratives can be changed. But who is this Danish woman? Why the ‘Land of Hope?’ Why did the ‘Ray of Thought’ team consider having an interview with her?
On the 23rd of December, 2018, at the hour of 10:00am, a dogged team from the ‘Ray of Thought’ community, had an interview with 2016 World’s most inspiring person – Anja Ringgren Lovén! The interview which spanned into hours, saw an amazing knit of passion, love and an exciting presence of a woman who left everything in Denmark to help witch children in Nigeria since 2013. With her husband David, Anja Lovén, has built a fantastic community named African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation (ACAEDF).
ACAEDF, which now houses more than 50 children from different communities, has survived with funding from Anja’s home country and some well-meaning Nigerians. While explaining that she’s not the first person to embark on this voyage, she nonetheless acknowledged that she’s the first white woman in Nigeria to spend time growing with ACAEDF.
It is not in doubt that ever since Hope was rescued from a rural community, Anja Lovén has travelled around the world, having varied interviews, speaking in conferences, receiving awards and speaking truth of a kind to attract both support and disappointing remarks.
The ‘Ray of Thought’ team appreciated the persona of Anja and what she represents – hope for the society’s rejected. This appreciation encircled not just understanding the challenges for Anja and her husband David, but also in the acknowledgement of her most recent award, the ‘Good Deed’ award. She’s the first Danish person to receive this award at the Palace on the Island, Warsaw Poland!
During the interview, one could affirm that Anja Lovén’s ethics and morals was quite infectious. The ‘Ray of Thought’ team which was headed by David Antia, spoke in earnest about her plans to not just solidify Anja’s influence by writing her biography and stories from the kids, but also in building a formidable platform for social, educational and political action.
The ‘Ray of Thought’ platform has as its vision, to bring to secondary quarters the challenges faced by many young and old people. These include but not limited to, superstition, rape, political thuggery and violence, family planning, education (even up to primary levels), as well as acquisition of skills.
While at the interview with Anja, we received with great pleasure the news that a school, with dilapidated structures (visited by David Antia and shared on social media) was finally approved for reconstruction! This is what we believe: that the ‘Ray of Thought’ platform would be the first point of contact with regards to how productive creatives must be with their skills and persona.
If the interview with Anja Lovén didn’t coat this belief with lessons, it can be argued that it was a failure. But it wasn’t! While, we appreciate the hopes and aspirations of ACAEDF and www.rayofthought.com, the Nigerian government must clean the dust off her educational policies/curriculum and beyond.
What would happen if children are exposed to the concept of how untrue the tenets of tradition is with regards witchcraft, etc?
What if our educational system embraces lectures and teachings on family planning?
What if kids are exposed to their creative powers, rather than the consequences of not living their parents’ dreams?
What if religion is taught in ways that do not destroy communities?
While we all ruminate on these questions, it is equally important to understand that our minds, when worked upon in tidy ways can birthe miracles! The many rescued kids at ACAEDF are miracles. The two years old Hope is one of such miracles. ‘Ray of Thought’ is another!
Anja gave a long and fantastic narrative of how she and her team rescued the little boy Hope (a name that was given to him at the hospital, when it was insisted they get a card before treatment), from the claws of a society that not only rejected him, but also branded him a ‘witch.’ Hope Lovén Umem, alongside other rescued children, has since been under the absolute care of ACAEDF. Below are excerpts from the interview with Anja Ringgren Lovén with the ‘Ray of Thought’ (ROT) team.
ANJA:I once heard of a group of students who got involved in freeing a man after 32 years in prison…you know it took many years to get his story…with all the flaws by the system…the court got involved and the man was freed. So I’m happy for you to be here. If there’s anything that you’d want me to help, I’d be pleased. About our own children, and in writing their stories, you’d need to work with David because we need to be careful about how we write about our work. I need not explain the Nigerian media, because they (these stories) could be used against our organisation. But we are open to work with you.
ROT: How did you feel, being nominated as the World’s most inspiring person in 2016?
ANJA: I felt good and bad at the same time…At that rescue mission, I was not alone. I was with my team like Orok and David. If you follow me on social media, you’d know that I’m always trying to promote everyone. No one can do anything successful alone…I am part of a team, but you know the media loves the story of how a white woman came to rescue a boy in Africa. But where’s the story in an African helping an African? So about the news of 2016, and before Nigeria, I was already doing humanitarian work in Tanzania and Malawi…yes I am not the only one working. I also have my hero David. So, when I got the nomination, I wrote to that magazine requesting they’d change from Anja Ringgren Lovén to ACAEDF, as the most inspiring team in the world – but they declined!
ROT: You were on Danish TV with the Prime Minister of Denmark of recent. How has your ethics and morals affected your attitudes or not, with regards to addressing certain challenges?
ANJA: …Despite rumours and challenges, I had David who would tell me, ‘you need to toughen up…just focus on what you do…’ So I’d get some strength from David 100%. So yes, I did wonder why I risked my life to come here.
I was actually contacted by the Danish Minister of foreign affairs in 2013. He said he’d been following me on social media and has seen my works in Malawi and Tanzania, but he’d strongly advise I shouldn’t go to Nigeria. ‘It’s not safe!’ But I’d not forget a BBC program aired on Danish TV in 2008. It was titled ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children.’ There, I saw children were buried alive or burnt. UNICEF even estimated that up to 10,000 kids die in Nigeria as a result of superstition. So I wondered – why did anyone not do something…so I did!
I can’t forget the scenes in that documentary, especially when a reporter asked one of the rescued kids, ‘what can I do for you?’ To which the kid replied, ‘I just want to go to school.’ I was deeply touched by that and made a promise that one day, when I establish my own NGO, that NGO would be the one trying to fight superstition in Nigeria! So it was that I did establish an NGO in Nigeria in 2012. That’s why the Minister reached out to me…
ROT: Dalai Lama…?
ANJA: Oh…one of the World’s greatest leaders, Dalai Lama, invited me to his temple in India. When I arrived there, we talked about a lot of things. He said something striking to me: “you are not a billionaire, not Bill Gates and co…you’re just an ordinary person following the heart. I’m an inspiration to everyone because if I can do this, then everyone else can…” So he now considered me to be his personal hero. Like the greatest person of the world saying “you’re my hero!” It was something amazing.