The award-winning humanitarian, bestselling author and acclaimed public speaker, Dr. Samantha Nutt talks candidly to Durtti about the effect that her experiences have had on her and how they continue to drive and inspire her to both help and raise awareness of the innocent victims of war.
Did you always want to become a Doctor from an early age, Samantha?
No. In fact, I was very firmly in the “arts and humanities” stream for most of my education.
When I graduated from high school I went to the UK on a scholarship to study Drama and English Lit. My path to medicine was much more unconventional and has pretty much stayed that way since becoming a doctor!
When you touched down in Baidoa, Somalia at the age of 25 as a (then) recent medical school graduate and a field volunteer for UNICEF, did you have any true comprehension of what you were about to witness?
I was arriving at the tail end of a famine that had claimed 300,000 lives. I also knew that the security situation would be very challenging.
What I did not expect was the powerful mix of frustration, grief and paradoxical hopefulness that I experienced in Somalia. In the midst of so much suffering and loss there were so many extraordinary Somalis who worked courageously and tirelessly to keep people alive. I would lie awake at night wanting to scream at the senselessness of it all, but I was also moved to tears by the everyday compassion I witnessed.
You wrote the #1 Bestseller, Damned Nations, an account of your experiences in some of the most war torn parts of the world. How difficult was it to recount the scenarios you had seen?
Some were intensely difficult, I’m not going to lie. The hardest part was writing about friends I lost to war. It was especially hard to write about Margaret Hassan, the head of [the international aid agency] CARE’s operations in Iraq. I adored Margaret and had known her over many years. She was abducted by an extremist group, tortured and killed. There were videos of her begging for her life that were released to media outlets and which are still online.
I wanted readers of Damned Nations to know Margaret – to see her strength and her courage. To me, she was emblematic of the word “humanitarian”. But revisiting those weeks before her death left me psychically shattered. I would sit down at my computer every day, write one sentence, then weep.
In the end, I was helped by one of my researchers, who collected and transcribed all the material I needed to tell Margaret’s story properly. It’s not an easy section of the book to read, but I have heard from many readers who were as touched and moved by Margaret as I was, and that’s the kind of tribute she deserves.
Much of the seemingly endless atrocity and injustice, especially to women and children doesn’t make a regular appearance in the mainstream press. Which regions of the world in your opinion are not gaining enough media exposure to highlight the atrocities currently taking place?
I would say all of them, without exception.
Children are being tortured and murdered in South Sudan right now – raped, castrated, forced to fight – and these atrocities barely receive more than a two inch, wire service column in the mid-section of most newspapers.
The war in the Congo has left more than 5 million people dead – the worst war since World War II – and it’s next to impossible to convince donor governments to fund humanitarian efforts there in any meaningful way.
The war in Darfur has dragged on and the needs are immense with millions displaced from their homes, but the only time it seems to warrant a mention is when it’s in reference to George Clooney.
Donor fatigue is also a major challenge as the Syrian crisis enters its sixth year.
That paying so little attention to some of the world’s most brutal atrocities is so ubiquitous is one of the reasons why they persist.
When you speak at an event, what one thought do you hope your audience will always take away with them?
That war is not inevitable.
Which social media do you find to be most beneficial in communicating your work with War Child USA and War Child Canada?
We use everything – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
My preference though is still an in-person event with a live audience. People are more likely to support and stay invested in your efforts when there has been that personal connection.
Would you ever consider a full time career in politics?
Ha Ha! I don’t think politics would consider a full time career in me. I have something of a reputation for speaking my mind and for refusing to wear convention t-shirts, both of which would be a liability in politics.
Also, I predict far too many jokes about having a ‘Nutt’ in office.
You must have built many special friendships with people from all over the world on your travels. Is there one positive memory or friendship in particular that has truly inspired you?
Honestly, I have several, many of whom I wrote about in Damned Nations. Sadly, too many of them died.
Losing those you love is the heartbreaking reality of war.
But it’s also what inspires me to want to do something about it.
More info at: www.warchildusa.org