Founder of War Child Canada Samantha Nutt (L) shakes hands with Governor General David Johnston after being awarded the rank of Member in the Order of Canada © REUTERS/Chris Wattie
By Raye Mocioiu
“People are good at reacting to emergency situations,” said War Child Founder and President Dr. Samantha Nutt. “But there’s a tendency to move onto the ‘next big crisis’ when issues are less immediate.”
War changes everyone and everything it touches, and its impact is felt long after the crisis ends. From the devastating destruction of communities to stripping their families of vital means of support to taking away their access to education and legal protection, war is ruinous.
Dr. Nutt, an award-winning humanitarian, bestselling author, acclaimed public speaker, and medical doctor, worked on the frontlines 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. She is a recipient of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honour, for her contributions to improving the plight of young people in the world’s worst conflict zones. Her critically-acclaimed book, Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid, details her experiences working with aid organizations in conflict zones and the hard lessons she learned about how aid is given out and received, and the issues that fall in between.
“War is never as far away as we believe it to be,” Dr. Nutt explains in the book. “It is in our pockets, generating annual returns for our pension funds, encircling our ring fingers, and filling up our cars, among other luxuries. This means that both individually and collectively, we have a far more direct influence over armed conflicts in the world than we might otherwise believe.”
The Making of War Child
“It’s hard to say this, but War Child was born out of frustration,” Dr. Nutt said. “Having arrived in Somalia as a young doctor during the famine and then working for a number of different aid organizations in very complex humanitarian environments I began noticing that certain things kept recurring all the time.”
Dr. Nutt recognized that aid organizations were largely staffed and managed by foreigners, not locals, leading to a disconnect between those who work for the organization and those who need their support.
“It’s one thing to be an aid worker and to go into an environment and keep people alive, but it’s another thing altogether to ensure that people have reasons to live every single day,” Dr. Nutt continued. “It may sound like a cliché, but they need to have a reason to invest in a different kind of future: a future without war.”
Her realization led to an idea for a humanitarian organization that would utilize the strengths and insights of the people who live in war-torn communities—who better to develop local programming than locals themselves? Local leaders and communities have the most in-depth understanding of their needs and the specific challenges they face, making them the best-suited choice to create sustainable change, with support from War Child.
“There are only so many wars to fight, whereas the possibilities for investing in reconstruction, reconciliation, democratic development, health care, and social welfare for at-risk populations are nearly infinite,” Dr. Nutt shared in Damned Nations.
Bridging the Gap
War damages every aspect of a child’s life and makes it impossible for children to enjoy their childhood. Dr. Nutt’s experiences across dozens of conflict zones across the globe gave her firsthand insight into how war impacts not only communities but children and their families.
Humanitarian organizations often focus on the short-term needs of communities in crisis. While these measures can be incredibly helpful, they leave a gap in long-term support, dealing with the conditions that contribute to violence and instability. War Child exists to bridge the gap between short-term emergency relief (primarily food, health care, water, and shelter) and long-term development programming that can help break the cycle of poverty, violence, and despair that so many are facing in war-torn communities. Even when the headlines disappear, War Child remains on the ground, knowing that the work is not over yet.
For over 20 years, War Child has worked with children and their families at the frontline of the world’s major crises. War Child uses a bold, community-driven approach to deliver programs that give children the best chance to overcome the challenges of war and grow up to see a brighter future.
War Child supports more than 600,000 women, children, and families annually. They provide numeracy and literacy classes to vulnerable women and catch-up education to children who have missed out on years of schooling. They work with women and youth, offering skills training and small business loans so that they become less aid dependent and lift their families out of poverty, and protect the rights of women and children through access to justice programs. War Child also works to enhance public education and awareness through music and other arts-based initiatives.
It’s a long-term holistic approach that seeks to end cycles of violence and poverty and sets up women and children to look forward to brighter futures. What makes it possible is that 99 per cent of War Child’s staff are locals to the communities the organization works with, allowing them to build systems of change and empowerment not just for these communities but within them.
“Many of War Child’s local staff and partners—they are doing extraordinary things for humanity against immeasurable odds,” Dr. Nutt shared. “Yet they bring such a deep conviction that they can change the status quo—that they can build something that is better for themselves and for their children. To me, that is just awe inspiring.”