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An Interview with Christel — DINNoedhjaelp

2022-12-10

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/09/18

DINNødhjælp was founded in 2012 as a charitable organization. It works from the heart to help the poorest and witch accused children in Nigeria, especially to the creation of a more dignified life.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Was there a family background in activism against superstition?

Christel: Anja grew up with my mom who worked in a elderly home and she always told her that hopefully all humans grow old and live a long life and it´s important to take care of people in need. Her mom gave her all the tools of the importance of taking care of people in need and she often told her about African children who were starving. So from a very young age Anja developed a very strong fascination about African children and her whole life she had a dream to someday help them and make a difference in Africa. Anjas mom died of cancer when she was only 23 years old and since she died Anja have been struggling trying to find peace of mind. Loosing her was very difficult and Anja needed to find meaning with her life. So she decided to follow my dreams and I established her own NGO and selling all her belongings gave Anja a freedom of independence to travel and make a difference without worrying about material things in her life.

Jacobsen: What was the original moment of making the separation between the real and supernatural to you? When did you realize others continue to believe superstitions? Why were these an important realizations for you?

Christel: Anja traveled alone to Nigeria where she met children who had been tortured and beaten almost to death because they were accused of being witches and therefore left alone on the street. What she saw were so barbaric and terrible and it left a deep impression on her.

That’s why Anja decided to sell everything I owned in Denmark to devote her time and life to help “witch children” in Nigeria.

For centuries, using magic or witchcraft has used the term witch doctor to describe someone who is believed to heal. Some historians claim that these early physicians and many of the potions they created probably led to modern medicine. Mentions of witch doctors are commonly found in early African literature, but in general terms, the reference could apply to early folk medicine practitioners worldwide. In various parts of the world, early medical practitioners might have been referred to as shamans, healers, or wise men or women.

Jacobsen: Your first project was the renovation of a Tanzanian school in August, 2012. What were the renovations? Why Tanzania?

Christel: It was because it was the journey where she needed to find out if she had it there was going to be able to make a difference on its own. And she would choose a country, which of course was not too dangerous, now she travelled alone and so reminiscent of Tanzania on Malawi and it is countries that are next to each other. Anja found in Tanzania an organization that lacked support for, to get a refurbished village school so this is why it was like Tanzania. It could also have been in Kenya but it was Tanzania. It was supposed to be a country in East Africa.

Jacobsen: Your second project was the Children Center (part of ACAEDF) on June 1, 2014 onward. What was this center for children? Why was this the next project? What have been the observed impacts of the work on it?

Christel: The Children Center was not the second project. Anja has been in Nigeria several times before she started DINNødhjælp. Children Center means that the children get a safe and loving home, where they can have a good upbringing. Furthermore, the Children Center also means that we can help people in the local communities with our Hope Clinic.

At DINNoedhjaelp’s orphanage in Nigeria all the children goes to school. Education creates development and the children´s schooling also helps to process their horrible past of severe torture and abuse. Besides going to school, we also work with the children every day through singing, dancing, playing and by being creative. Drawing and painting are the children’s favorite activities. The children develop their senses and creativity. Drawing and painting is an expression of their spontaneity and imagination. Children express their best thoughts, memories and feelings through play, song and dance.

Jacobsen: The organization participated in the DR2 documentary entitled “Hell’s Heroes (Helvedes Helte)” in 2014, “A Dane saves the world (En dansker redder verden)” in May 2015, and “Anja and the witchchildren (Anja og heksebørnene)” in October 2016. What were the main contributions to these documentaries? What are some of the more important messages, or even individual narratives, from the documentaries — each one, respectively please?

Christel: the documentary was to inform about the existence of witchcraft and superstition in Nigeria. It gives the viewer a good glimpse into everyday life in Nigeria. But it also provides a glimpse into rescue missions in Nigeria.

Jacobsen: What are the main issues surrounding high superstition leading “inhumane treatments of torture, dehumanization and banishment by the family and the local community”?

Christel: When a child is accused of witchcraft, the accusation often come from either an uncle, grandmother, stepmother/father, neighbours, people from the village or the priest. Actually it´s very rare they are accused by their own parents. But once a child has been accused of being a witch, there is no turning back. Villagers will require the child to either be exorcised from the so-called evil spirits through nightly exorcism rituals by the local priest. Or the parents take the child to a witch doctor, which they believe has magical powers to exorcise the witch from the child. But this cost a lot of money and superstition is most common in the poorest areas. The children are often tortured and killed. The parents can’t stand against the whole village and the local occult groups who all demand that the bewitched child must either be tortured to death or banished from the village. The parents or the family members of the accused child are at risk of being killed, if they let their child stay in their house. The parents will believe that the child is bewitched if it is a priest who appointed the child to be a witch. The child is killed either by being beheaded, buried alive, burned alive or simply beaten/tortured to death.

Jacobsen: What is the line of reasoning and evidence for this? What leads to these terrible consequences? What are the main solutions to prevent it, and to protect children, and so families and communities from superstitious hysteria?

Christel: Witch accusation is a growing problem in many African countries, especially in Nigeria. Witch accusations may occur due to death and illness in the family, harvest failure, layoffs or infertility. According to traditional African beliefs everything has a supernatural source, and it is often the children who are made the scapegoats.

In the past 50 years in Nigeria, many new independent churches emerged with roots in Pentecostalism. The churches are charismatic, and they use rhythmic singing and dancing in the worships services and a high emphasize on healing by laying a hand on a person and the ability to speak in prophecy. Unlike the official Pentecostal church these churches give room for traditional African belief in witchcraft and black magic.

The belief in witches, black magic and sorcery does not only exist only in Africa, it exists throughout the whole world, and it´s not an outright “African thing”. Witch-hunt goes back several hundred years, and is also a part of Danish history. Every year at midsummer we burn witches made of clothes at the stake. Millions of innocent people have throughout history been killed due to superstition and witchcraft. Mainly this has affected both children, women and old people for many years.

The superstition in Nigeria is most prevalent in Cross River State, Rivers State and Akwa Ibom where DINNoedhjaelp works. In Akwa Ibom mixed Pentecostal understanding of Christianity mixed with local tribal religions leads often to a deadly cocktail that involves belief in witches and exorcism of witches.

Jacobsen: You provide children with “plenty of care, medical treatment, food / lodging and education, which enables a stable life for the children so they can become viable in the society.” How does this look on the ground? What have been some of the worst individual cases you’ve seen, and the improvements in the child’s life with these provisions?

Christel: There are many bad cases, one should keep in mind that children are tortured, and many children are being killed on a daily basis. It is estimated that there are 10,000 children each year, which are accused of being witches only in Nigeria.

Jacobsen: How can people become involved, even donate to DINNoedhjaelp?

Christel: People involves through our facebook pages, our website and through Anja’s lectures around the world. It is important for Anja to know that every cent of the money collected is used correctly to the benefit the children. To ensure the collections reaches the projects, Anja travels to Africa herself with DINNoedhjaelp’s funds. This prevents the money from being lost in corruption and she can ensure the funds are used the right way.

You can donate and become a member at DINNoedhjaelp, through our website.

Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion, Christel?

Christel: It is important that the world will be aware of the superstition about witches still exists in some places of the world. We have as human beings have a responsibility to help others when we have the possibility — if it is to help your neighbour, a man in distress you meet on the street, or people you will never meet. It is the only way we can make the world a better place for all- if we dare to take the responsibility to help.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time today, Christel — was a pleasure.

License

In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at www.in-sightpublishing.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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