Dr. Samantha Nutt is an award-winning humanitarian, bestselling author and acclaimed public speaker. And if that’s not enough, she is also a medical doctor and a founder of the renowned international humanitarian organization WAR CHILD USA and Canada (http://warchildusa.org/), where she has worked with children and their families at the frontline of many of the world’s major crises – from Iraq to Afghanistan, Somalia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone to Darfur, Sudan.
With all the incredible and life-changing and saving initiatives Dr. Nutt has done and accomplished, and with celebrity supporters of her cause like Alicia Keys, Kate Hudson and Iggy Pop, we just had to speak with her more…
How did you come up with the idea of starting War Child?
I’m a medical doctor and a field person. My first experience in a war zone was with UNICEF in the mid 90s, during a famine. It was impossible to be in the middle of such violence – to bear witness to the suffering caused by war – and to not question whether there were things that can and should be done differently both to prevent war and protect children from such horror. I worked for several years after that with various aid groups in Africa and the Middle East and saw that while some things were being done right there was also a tremendous need to do certain things differently – to shift the focus from “emergency relief” to longer term strategies that invest in local communities, enhance their capacity, stimulate local employment and help them become more resilient, ultimately reducing both the threat of war and its impact. Too often, what I saw were short term interventions staffed overwhelmingly with foreigners who ran parallel structures with no accountability to the local population they served. And when the cameras went home, so did they, and so did the infrastructure they’d built up, leaving civilians more vulnerable and dependent on aid than ever before. I did not want to keep contributing to a system that I felt was fundamentally broken. So a few of us with expertise in war zones began to look to new models. Models focused on local people and that addressed some of the structural challenges – poverty, unemployment, impunity – that increased their vulnerability to war, famine and disease. We also wanted to encourage people here at home to think differently about aid, so that we better understand the impact that we might have – both positive and negative. That’s where the music partnerships came in; to get that message out and foster social change. That was the impetus behind War Child in North America. We started as a completely independent organization, as did two agencies that shared the same name in Europe. Several years later we all came together to form an alliance of War Childs. We’re all still independent and have diverse approaches, but we share a common purpose: to help children in war zones.
Were you always “all about giving back” as a child growing up?
I think giving back is really something you mature into. I had spent several years living overseas as a child and young teen so I did have a global outlook and perspective from a young age. But I was mostly preoccupied with friends and clothes and fitting in and all the other things that you go through at that age. I was always feisty though and rather fearless when it came to challenging authority (which meant a fair bit of time in detention), so the tendency towards activism was certainly there. War Child is massive now, with celebrity influencers/supporters like Alicia Keys, Chantal Kreviazuk, Tegan & Sara, Iggy Pop, Kate Hudson, Pearl Jam, Rush, Feist, and the list goes on… How do you feel knowing your efforts are being supported by such big names and you aren’t just alone in your beliefs?
Grateful. Truly. These are artists with tremendous platforms who believe in what War Child is doing and have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for our work. It would not exist without them and we would not be able to reach 400,000 children and their families every year through our programs. War can also be a complicated and polarizing cause to take on and speak to as an artist. That so many of them have had the courage to step forward and draw attention to our work and to explain why it’s necessary is a credit to all of them.
Who was your role model growing up and why?
Sabrina on Charlie’s Angels (played by Kate Jackson). Seriously. It was the late 70s/early 80s. We all wanted to be her. She was tomboy tough and had a sense of humor while ridding the streets of bad guys. And Sabrina didn’t wear a corset like Wonder Woman, which seemed even more ridiculous than her alter-ego changing twirl.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
“Pay attention! You just might learn something. ” It was generously delivered by every teacher I ever had.
Why did you feel it was important to write the book, Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies, and Aid, and get this information out there for people to read?
Damned Nations is a distillation of 20 years of working in war zones and thinking about the ways in which our responses to these crises, from a humanitarian perspective, don’t work as well as we would all hope. I also want ed to confront assumptions that many of us hold that war in other parts of the world has nothing to do with us, and yet we profit from and sustain it. We’re quick to blame people in other parts of the world for orchestrating such misery while failing to address our complicity in their suffering. So it’s part exposé, part call to action, and part guide for anyone interested in international development causes. I wrote it because I wanted people to see, up close, the perspective from the ground – to hear the stories of those I have met who defied every stereotype we have of people living with war and poverty as “helpless victims” – and to draw general readers into a pointed conversation about war, militarism and aid. I’m glad to see it is doing that.
Will you be writing any other books down the line?
Yes, in fact I’ m writing my second book right now, with Penguin Random House. It’s on the “radicalization” (and here the quotation marks are important) of young people by extremist groups.
What does the future hold for War Child and yourself?
Well, staying alive and sticking around is really the priority, which is harder than it sounds when you’re working in highly insecure environments. But the hard truth is that war is on the rise again and our programs are needed more than ever. We are being asked to be in more places and expand our reach because children in these environments need it. But our resources are finite. Hopefully in the near future we will be able to do even more. Ultimately, though, the goal is for us to not be needed at all. Sadly, we’re still a long way from that.
And final question: What do you hope people remember you by?
I hope people remember me as an authentic voice. Someone willing to confront our assumptions, challenge opinions and maybe even change a few attitudes. And I hope I am remembered as a loving and determined mother to my son, Rhys.