We spoke to Dr Samantha Nutt, Founder of War Child Canada/USA, to find out more about the charity
When was your first visit to Africa?
When I was about a year old, I moved to South Africa with my parents for my father’s work. We lived there for nearly six years.
How has Africa changed your life since visiting?
I have continued to go back to Africa almost yearly for the past two decades for my work with War Child Canada/USA. I have spent time and gotten to know people from all parts of the continent and am still amazed by how vast, beautiful and wondrous it is – even in places that have experienced so much heartache. Africa never leaves me and I am grateful for all that Africans have taught me about patience, respect for others and community.
How has War Child Canada/USA become involved in different areas across Africa?
War Child Canada/USA is a humanitarian organisation that helps children and their families rebuild their lives and withstand the brutal impact of war. We take a long-term view of the challenge of war – we are not a ‘relief’ organisation. We work exclusively with local partner and community agencies to invest in grassroots, sustainable solutions that protect children, uphold the rule of law and foster self-sufficiency and economic opportunity. Our work is both complex and holistic, with an emphasis on education, access to justice and skills training (economic development) that over time help to break the cycle of poverty and violence plaguing war-torn communities. We are part of an alliance of War Child offices, which includes War Child UK and Holland. We’re all independent agencies and have diverse field approaches, but we share a common purpose: to help children in war zones.
Is there a specific area in Africa you are concentrating on currently?
Over the past decade we have concentrated on several African countries where the impact of war on children has been especially brutal. That currently includes Darfur, Sudan, South Sudan, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Uganda (where we now work with Southern Sudanese refugees). Of course, there are many other African countries where War Child Canada/USA can and should be operating. Unfortunately, sometimes it can be difficult to convince people to give to crises in other parts of the world they may be unfamiliar with. We don’t always have the financial resources to grow or expand our programs even when the needs are great and the results are undeniable – this is the agonising reality of the humanitarian sector. Security can also be a very real concern when it comes to which countries we can operate in.
Why is War Child Canada/USA so important to the world and Africa?
The world has witnessed a resurgence of war in recent years. We are currently experiencing the worst refugee crisis ever recorded – greater than World War II. War Child is the only agency completely devoted to and focused exclusively on children in conflict. We tackle some of the drivers of violence and instability, in the hope that we can better protect children and break the cycle. But all of our programmes are rooted in the capacity and knowledge of local communities – we don’t set up large expat infrastructures. We invest in and train community groups so that they can lead these changes. And we know our programming approaches work and that our African partners in particular value our commitment to longer-term, holistic strategies. This shows in the dedication of our African staff as well, many of whom have been with the organisation for over a decade and have moved between country programs to share experiences and model successes.
What challenges lie ahead for you and War Child Canada/USA?
The priority, for me and for the organisation, is to make sure that we have the resources needed to continue to do the work – because the hard truth is that our programmes are needed now more than ever. We are being asked to be in more places and expand our reach because children in these environments are facing tremendous violence and hardship. But as I have already mentioned, it can be hard to attract donors to causes that fall outside of their frame of reference. 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.
Where does your inspiration come from?
The people who inspire me most are our local partners and staff. That’s always been the case. When I first landed in Somalia, my office mate and supervisor was a wonderful Somali woman named Mariam. She was in her fifties. She was tenacious, opinionated and undaunted. I also consider Margaret Hassan, who was the head of CARE’s operations in Iraq for many years, as an important early mentor of mine. Sadly, Margaret was abducted by a terror network in Iraq, tortured and killed. But I learnt so much from these women about what good development actually means.
What is something about Africa, in general, that you want people to know from your time there?
Even in the countries where I have worked, where the poverty and brutality of war are extreme – in the Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, and Darfur, for example – you see extraordinary courage, compassion and determination. But the poverty and violence plaguing many regions of Africa is systemic. It is historical, but very current as well. The arms trade, the plunder of Africa’s natural and agricultural resources, the exploitation of cheap labour, the legacy of colonialism and Cold War vagaries – all of these factor heavily in the conflict and poverty trap we see in parts of Africa today. Nevertheless, the situation within war-torn countries isn’t hopeless. By investing in the right way, in the right people, it’s possible to break that cycle of war, poverty and violence. There are alternatives and war is not inevitable. But it’s going to take a monumental effort to contain and reconcile some of the forces that sustain this violence.
How can others help?
One of the most effective things anyone can do is to support organisations working with local community groups to help during these crises. But be invested for the longhaul, because it’s going to take years – not months. It’s far more effective to give even smaller amounts of money on a regular basis – such as monthly – because this allows organisations to properly plan and to spend their time effectively on programmes instead of on fundraising.
Is there anything else you wish to add?
Twenty years ago, War Child was an idea. But because of the dedication of our staff and our partners, and their courage, we now serve approximately 400,000 people in war zones every year. I would encourage you to learn more by visiting www.warchild.ca and to consider supporting our efforts across the continent.
War Child Canada/USA is an internationally acclaimed humanitarian organisation that helps children and their families rebuild their lives and withstand the brutal impact of war.