Dr. Samantha Nutt has difficulty describing her most memorable experience. It might be last September in Winnipeg when she stood onstage with the Tragically Hip before 80,000 people, while lead singer Gord Downie urged fans to contribute to her organization, War Child Canada. They raised more than $300,000 that night. Or it might be the time in Burundi when Nutt saw blindfolded fathers and their sons marched into fields and shot by local militia. Or there are the “countless times” that soldiers in war zones “allowed me into places and situations that would have been closed to a male counterpart,” says the youthful-looking 31 -year-old best known as “Sam.”
With her exuberant manner,
Nutt seems the prototypical All-Canadian Girl Next Door —but her accomplishments would be impressive for someone of any age. Since 1995,
Nutt has visited trouble spots from Iraq to Somalia to, last month, the border of Thailand and Myanmar to help in the production of a one-hour documentary on the war-affected area. A graduate of McMaster University’s medical school in Hamilton, she is founder/director of the International Health Fellowship Program at Sunnybrook & Women’s College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto-—where she also has a general practice.
But home for the Toronto native now is Ottawa, the base of War Child Canada—an offshoot of an organization founded in Great Britain that works with people in the entertainment and music industries to help children in war zones. Those efforts include a New Year’s Eve concert in Toronto last year that
drew more than 250,000 people, the Winnipeg show, and videos and documentaries produced with MuchMusic.
Nutt’s sensitivity to injustice springs from the days when her father, then a designer with Bata Shoes, was posted to apartheid-era South Africa. At 4, she recalls being reduced to tears when a black friend she was playing with was ordered to leave a whites-only park. Back in Canada, she excelled at drama and “as the girl on every sports team or anything involving music.” She decided to study science at McMaster to show that she was “serious and credible.” Then, one professor gave a “save-the-world” speech that wakened her humanitarian instincts.
Nutt focuses on young people as the subject and salvation of her work. The rebel armies she has dealt with are filled with boys as young as 8, some of whom have killed countless times. “They have no moral conception of right and wrong,” she says. At home, she’s heartened by the response from young Canadians to her plea to help others: “You have to reach them in ways they understand.”
Last September, Nutt married Eric Hoskins, a physician who has worked with her in danger zones. In January, she’ll go to either the former Yugoslavia or Sri Lanka. In the years ahead, Nutt hopes to keep the same mix of medical work abroad and consciousness-raising efforts at home. One memory that drives her is a report card from a high-school teacher who wrote that Sam was a “disruptive force in a sound environment.” These days, the reverse is true.
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