WESTBURY, New York — War Child USA works with war-affected communities to give children and women access to education, livelihood opportunities and justice. The Borgen Project spoke with Dr. Samantha Nutt, Founder and President of War Child USA and War Child Canada, to learn more about its advocacy efforts.
The Impact of War
Before the beginning of 2021, violence, conflict and human rights violations had forcibly displaced more than 82 million people. A record 26.4 million refugees fled their homes. In 2018, 67% of these refugees came from five countries: The Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. As international migration continues to trend upward across the developing world, world institutions, like the U.N., are battling political polarization and reactionary nativist sentiments. However, they recognize that global migration is a defining condition of the contemporary world; therefore, it must be addressed as an international community.
Clearly, natural disasters and endemic poverty in nations like Haiti can trigger refugee migrations. However, disastrous wars like in Syria, where 70% of the 5.5 million refugees fleeing conflict live in poverty, can cause more pronounced migration crises with exaggerated effects. While some world institutions are stepping in to render war victims immediate aid, other organizations are tackling solutions to stop violence at its roots.
Dr. Samantha Nutt and War Child
Dr. Samantha Nutt founded War Child Canada in 1999. She later went on to found its sister agency, War Child USA. Dr. Nutt brought years of experience working for multiple U.N. agencies to her work with War Child. Its mission is to support people and regions the war has impacted and tackle the root causes of violence and armed conflict around the world. Today, War Child furthers this mission through education, opportunity and justice. It provides programs and services for victims of war to give them the necessary services and opportunities they need to not fall behind in life. Instead, they can recover and rebuild their communities.
When Dr. Nutt was working in conflict zones in the 1990s, she grew frustrated watching international organizations end aid and leave once the funding and media attention dried up. She saw that there was a need for a more long-term, community-based approach to helping war victims that would rethink models of aid by relying on local competencies and capacity. That realization inspired her to start War Child Canada and War Child USA.
“Many organizations were understandably focusing their efforts in war zones on short-term emergency measures, such as providing food, water, shelter and blankets, but really, very rarely, addressing the root causes or systemic issues,” said Dr. Nutt. “Whether those are political or economic, or even geopolitical, for example, in terms of foreign policy, the underlying drivers that sustained violence often included a critical lack of education, women’s rights, judicial infrastructure and democratic development. Rarely did international organizations really strive to address the reasons why conflict, poverty, and violence exist in the first instance.”
Dr. Nutt says War Child’s teams and vision come from the communities in which War Child works, with 99% of War Child’s 400 plus staff worldwide coming from the regions they serve. In fact, War Child works exclusively with national staff, local partner organizations and civil society organizations to enable capacity building and the sharing of resources. Those leadership roles, which include creating and running programs in each country (Country Directors), are almost always local or regional. She says this approach is embedded in strong community networks and expertise. It is one of the reasons the programs can continue delivering services in areas where there are often fewer international organizations.
Education, Opportunity and Justice
War is a driving force with unforeseen ramifications. Unfortunately, the impact of war does not end on the battlefield. War Child provides children with school opportunities to secure every child’s right to an education and teach them the skills to reject violence in favor of peace and reconciliation.
War Child also provides women and youth with training to find dignified work through its livelihood programs. This way, they can be less reliant on foreign aid. Additionally, in pursuit of its efforts to protect women and children, in particular those whose rights are being violated due to ongoing violence and instability, “War Child is a registered law firm in Afghanistan and Uganda.” It actively defends those in search of justice through legal aid and other legal supports.
“Does poverty exacerbate war, or does war exacerbate poverty?” asked Dr. Nutt. “Both of those two things can be true.” Dr. Nutt says, in communities that feel increasingly marginalized and desperate, the only way to protect their family, earn an income and survive is by joining some of the various armed groups. She says in regions like South Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo, youth recruitment rates skyrocket when the local militia is the only viable employer in town. For many who are illiterate, joining is often their only option.
War Child in Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo
War Child tries to alleviate this kind of employment by offering better opportunities and options for communities living with war and conflict. In Afghanistan, War Child launched a program to help the country’s most vulnerable women through strong local community outreach. It provides education in basic literacy and numeracy and develops early child care education programs. Older children, who had missed out on years of school, were able to participate in War Child’s accelerated learning programs. This enabled them to catch up and reintegrate back into the appropriate grade levels.
War Child is constantly developing new and innovative methods to ensure children receive an education. Dr. Nutt shared that, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, War Child implemented an interactive radio instruction program in conjunction with the Ministry of Education. It broadcasts an educational curriculum over the radio to vulnerable and isolated school children in areas where insecurity prevented them from attending formal school. It deployed teaching assistants within the children’s own communities in order to help them with the radio instruction. At the end of the initial pilot program, at least 80% of these children passed their exams. That is a higher rate than the national average.
Looking to the Future
War Child continues to add new countries of operation where their work is desperately needed. Dr. Nutt says it also plans to expand its catch-up education programs to address the effects of COVID-19, which has caused further disruptions to schools in many of its countries of operation. This has caused already vulnerable children to fall further behind. Furthermore, War Child intends on staying in Afghanistan where it has been operational for two decades. It hopes to be able to maintain a presence, especially for the women and girls who have come to rely on its services and support.
“I’m a little concerned about some of the rhetoric around the funding of humanitarian aid programs in Afghanistan and whether or not organizations can continue to operate in Afghanistan. The reality is that things will only get worse for women and girls, especially if organizations like ours retreat”, said Dr. Nutt. “And so I am hoping that between now and the end of the year, we’ll be able to mobilize people to invest in our work in Afghanistan in particular because we are needed now as much as ever before.”
– Andre Silva