In January 2016, an emaciated little boy was found roaming the streets of southern Nigeria. The orphan — naked, riddled with worms and close to death — had been abandoned by his family, who believed he was a witch, and had been living on food scraps for eight months. His rescuer, aid worker Anja Ringgren Loven, shared a heartbreaking photo on Facebook of the 10-pound 2-year-old sipping from a bottle of water, and the post quickly went viral, garnering thousands of likes and comments.
“I have chosen to call the boy Hope for right now,” Loven wrote on her charity’s Facebook page in February 2016. “We all hope that he survives.”
Just one year later, Hope is thriving: On Tuesday, January 31, the happy, healthy toddler embarked on his first day of school. And to celebrate the milestone, Loven re-created the iconic image of her, encouraging him to drink from a bottle of water. The difference between the two pictures, taken 13 months apart, is remarkable.
“This picture makes me cry of happiness!” wrote one person, while another raved: “Look at him!! He is so cute! I love his little book bag!”
Hope lives with 35 others in an orphanage run by Loven and her husband, David Emmanuel Umem. “All the other children are so protective of him, especially the older ones,” Umem told Us Weekly in April 2016. “Initially Hope was aggressive with everyone, but we have gained his trust. Now he is so happy.” His favorite activities? Building little houses with soil and drawing pictures!
Loven set up her charity African Children’s Aid Education and Development Foundation in Nigeria to help young people who have been accused of witchcraft. “I traveled to Nigeria where I met children who have been tortured and beaten almost to death because they were accused of being witches and there left alone on the street,” she previously told Huffington Post UK. “What I saw was so barbaric and terrible and it left a deep impression on me.”
According to UNICEF, belief in witchcraft is widespread in Africa, and those most likely to be accused are boys with physical deformities or conditions such as autism. The Washington Post reported that in the southwestern Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom, there are an estimated 15,000 children who have been labeled witches and abandoned on the streets.