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‘I ended up living two years in Israel and it was the best time of my life’

shared by Anja Ringgren Loven
landofhope.global/en/anja/ (courtesy)

Many people are familiar with Anja Ringgren Loven’s photograph taken at the time of her first meeting with Hope. This photo has become so famous that, even after years, this frame still appears on various websites on the internet. But of course, Anja Ringgren Loven is so much more than this photo. Some say she’s an angel who fights witches, some say she’s a famous humanitarian volunteer. These are true, but there is one more thing that is true; Anja is a very successful figure who is idealistic from an early age and dedicated to doing positive things for this world.

It’s worth knowing that the life of such an impressive woman is too colorful and intriguing to fit into any interview, but I still tried to interview Anja Ringgren Loven, who has lived in Israel for a time in the past, about her life and the developments in her foundation.

You became a widely known woman with your story in Nigeria, but before that you were a well-known person in Denmark. Shall we learn from you, who is Anja Ringgren Loven?

I grew up with my mom, my twin sister and our big sister in the north of Denmark in a city called Frederikshavn. We lived in a small apartment. My mom and dad got divorced when I was only 3 years old. My father was an alcoholic and my mom had to take care of 3 children alone. My mom took care of old people in a nursing home. She worked as a social worker for more than 25 years. My mom always told my twin sister and I that by helping others we are making the world a better place. And all my life I only saw how she did everything she could to help her friends and in our local community where she donated all her time being a volunteer in different social work projects. All the old people in the nursing home loved her very much. I was raised by a very strong woman who raised me with integrity and good values. My mom also told my twin sister and I that if we did not eat all the food on our plates we should think of the many poor starving children in African. I was very young, maybe about 6 years when I remember the first time she mentioned children in Africa.

I started thinking more and more about how I could do something to help children in Africa because my mom always told me to appreciate that I had a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in and food on the table. After I graduated from Frederikshavn Gymnasium I wanted to travel to Africa to help children in need. It had been my dream since I was very young. My twin sister was travelling to Israel to work in a kibbutz and she told me to come with her and then after I could travel to Africa. I ended up living almost 2 years in Israel and it was the best time of my life. I came to Israel in 1999 and lived and worked in Kibbutz Gesher. I travelled from the north to the Dead Sea, Eilat, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and almost everywhere and created a life experience that I keep deep in my heart. I plan to travel to Israel this summer with my son and show him some of the places I visited. My mom died of cancer when I was only 23 years old. The pain after my mom died was very difficult for me to handle and it took many years for me to accept my mother´s death. It was the first time I felt injustice.

I was powerless and did not understand why my mom, who had worked so hard her entire life to help others, suddenly had to suffer from cancer and die to young. I was very angry and felt an immense sense of injustice. Same feeling I feel today when I witness children in Nigeria being abused and killed due to witch craft accusations. After my 30 year birthday I decided to follow my lifelong dream of helping children in Africa. I had to deal with the grief of losing my mom but 7 years had passed and I felt much stronger. My mom taught me to never give up and work hard so in 2011 I quit my job and sold all of my belongings. I actually made myself homeless in Denmark to be able to raise enough money to travel to Africa. I travelled to Malawi as a humanitarian worker and then I travelled to Tanzania to build a school and help the local community. After travelling in East Africa for one year working with different aid projects I felt I had gained enough experience to establish my own organization. So in 2012 I established Land of Hope, a Danish NGO with the mission to save innocent children, accused of witchcraft, from discrimination, torture and death.

Can you detail your experience in Israel?

shared by Anja Ringgren Loven

I travelled to Israel in February in 1999 and lived and worked in Kibbutz Gesher. I was in the kibbutz for 9 months at first and then I travelled around Israel. I then travelled back to Denmark after 1 year but I missed Israel so much that I decided to travel back in 2000 and went back to my old kibbutz and also travelled around. I had a boyfriend from Israel. We met in the kibbutz where he lived with his family. He was a few years older than me. He was very tall and handsome. I sometimes wonder how my life would have turned out if I had not travelled back to Denmark. When I returned to Israel he had travelled to America. I told him not to wait for my return. I also wanted him to follow his dreams. He is married today with kids and live in Haifa I think. I´m not sure. I just know that he lives in Israel today. I was very young when I lived in Israel and to me Israel was like this great adventure in one of the world´s most beautiful countries. I was amazed of the astonished nature and found Israel to be unbelievably diverse for its size. Oh not to mention, that I did not know that Israelis are the most beautiful people. Well I actually knew because when I was young I fell in love with Gili Netanel when he was singing in the Eurovision song contest. In the kibbutz I met young from all over the world. Life in the kibbutz was so free and peaceful. We were a mix of so many different cultures and I loved the diversity. I want my son to also experience the beauty of Israel and that is why I plan to take him there. In Denmark he is a student at the International School and one of his class mates is from Israel and he has travelled back to Israel so we plan to visit him and his family in Tel Aviv

While living in one of the most prosperous countries in the world, you chose a very difficult life in the opposite country. You even started a family.

I think I have answered part of this in my first respond but I can tell you why I ended up in Nigeria, one of the world´s most dangerous countries. In 2008 I saw a horrifying documentary on Danish television about superstition in Nigeria. My entire childhood and later on in my teenage years I read a lot of books about Africa and it was my dream to travel there one day and help children. I had read about extreme poverty, diseases, AIDS, malaria, corruption and humanitarian disasters in Africa and I thought those were the major reasons why millions of African children died every year. I had never heard about “witch children” and I was very shocked to find out that every year in Nigeria thousands of children were burned alive and tortured to death simply because they were accused of being witches. I was also very surprised because it was as if no one in the world seemed to take it serious? This was not just a few children, this was an entire religious industry that made millions of dollars using innocent children in religious practices like exorcism and black magic. Either UNICEF or any world leaders seem to care about superstition and corruption in Nigeria and one scene in the documentary made me swear to myself that one day I would travel to Nigeria and tell the whole world what was happening. In this scene a girl had been accused of being a witch and the local community was chasing her out of the village. Some of the men in the village wanted to kill her. She was very scared and had to run away.

Alone on the streets a man found her and asked her how he could help her. All she said was: “I just want to go to school”. Not only did the scene made me cry, it was also a motivation for me to fight for children´s rights in Nigeria and give them a voice. I travelled to Nigeria in 2013, more than 9 years ago today. Since then my team in Nigeria and I have rescued more than hundreds of children accused of witch craft. We have built the biggest children center in West Africa, I named it Land of Hope, the same name as my organization. Today we have 82 children living at my children center in Nigeria, all accused of being witches. In Nigeria I met David Emmanuel Umem, the father of my son. He worked as a legal adviser to the local NGO I visited and he was also a law student. We fell in love and quickly found out that we shared the same dreams of building a children center and fight for children´s rights. I did not plan to start a family of my own in Nigeria but life is unpredictable and like in everything I do, I followed my heart. Our son, David Jr. was born on the 14 of August 2014.

Would you like to retell your story of meeting Hope?

David, our team and I rescued Hope on the 30 of January 2016 and before the rescue of Hope I had already lived in Nigeria for 3 years and been on many rescue missions. I already had a lot of experience then but what was so different during the rescue of Hope was that only 1.5 years earlier I gave birth to my son and he was there with David and I on the rescue mission of Hope. It was also during the filming of my third Danish documentary so I was surrounded by a documentary crew from Denmark and there was a lot of chaos but when we found Hope I had to stay focused or else I would jeopardize the entire mission. It was all very emotional but I did not show any emotions. I had to be very careful. When I carried Hope in my arms he only weighed 3 kilo and was almost dead. We rushed him to the hospital and the doctors told us he had a little chance of survival. Hope was very malnourished and his organs were failing. I did not think he would survive and I wanted him to die with a name and on my fingers I have the name HOPE tattooed. It stands for: Help One Person Everyday and has always been my mantra.

What difficulties do you encounter in Nigeria?

I´m born and raised in Denmark, one of the world´s most safest, peaceful and richest countries, and I think it is safe to say that Nigeria is the total opposite. Nigeria is one of the world´s most poorest, corrupted and dangerous countries so the list of challenges is endless. But I have adapted to the life in Nigeria and through 9 years of experience I have learned to tackle most of the challenges.

https://landofhope.global

Is the progress of your foundation satisfying you? What are your goals in this regard?

Today the lives of more than hundreds of children have been saved because of our work. We have made a huge impact in many local communities and changed the mindset of many villagers through our advocacy campaigns. The rescue of Hope has made the world aware of the situation in Nigeria regarding superstition and the killing of many innocent children. Land of Hope children center is the biggest in Nigeria and entire West Africa with our own children´s hospital and Entrepreneur center and we have many projects on ground. But for us to carry out our work and save more lives we are very depending on support.

All donations to Land of Hope can be send through my website: https://landofhope.global/en/support-land-of-hope/

Your life story, determination and ideals make you one of the most special women in the world. As a successful woman, what would you recommend to your fellow women?

Awareness of women´s rights in Nigeria and also in many other countries has failed because of the resistance to change. Nigeria has lived by patriarchal ideologies for centuries and I hope that women, not only in Nigeria, but women all over the world, will continue to encourage each other to fight for our rights. When for example women in Saudi Arabia are deprived basic human rights, as women, we need to bring awareness of such injustice and use our platforms to support. No matter how far we are from each other, we can make a change by using our voices. We are much more powerful than we think. The success I have today is because my mom lead the way and my sisters supported my vision. In all the vices of the world women and children are the most vulnerable. We are only strongest together.

Lastly there are many benevolent Jewish people and they work in foundations around the world. What would you like to say to Israeli philanthropists?

Never give up.

About the Author
Dalia Cohen has worked in magazines such as Newsweek, Fortune and Women's Health in her editorial career. She is actively involved in many NGOs and writes articles on topics such as politics, health and technology. She is also actively working on antisemitism and women's rights.
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