War Child was founded in North America in 1999 by two young doctors – Samantha Nutt and Eric Hoskins. Both had worked for many years in some of the world’s toughest war zones, and had become convinced that a better, more grassroots approach to humanitarian work was possible. From the outset, Sam and Eric were committed to creating a charity that empowers local people and organizations to be the architects of their own recovery from the devastation of war. They believed passionately that communities and local leaders should be at the helm of rebuilding their countries. In their view, the role of organizations such as War Child is to enable, rather than drive, that process.
War Child grew from a volunteer base of one - Sam – equipped with a cell phone and a one room office, to what it is today: an award-winning international charity with a team of 20 based at the office headquarters in Little Italy, Toronto. The head office team provides support to over 200 staff members employed overseas, 95% of whom are local people.
It was with the immense support from the Canadian music industry that War Child grew from its modest beginnings. In 2000, War Child burst onto the national scene with a huge benefit concert in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Featuring The Tragically Hip and Chantal Kreviazuk, the concert attracted 80,000 people and raised over $500,000. Two more large-scale concerts followed. These events brought War Child’s vision to the hearts and minds of Canadians: a world where no child knows war.
By 2001, War Child was operational in Iraq, Afghanistan and on the Thai-Burmese border. With the award of funds from the government’s Canada Fund for Africa, the organization was able to expand into Ghana (working with Liberian refugees) and Sierra Leone. At this stage, War Child was still a volunteer organization. It wasn’t until 2002 that the first full time, paid employee was appointed.
2001 also saw the first of two major TV documentaries on War Child’s work - Musicians In The War Zone. This ambitious film followed Canadian musicians as they travelled to visit War Child’s programs: David Usher to the Thai-Burmese border; Rascalz to Sierra Leone; and Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk’s journey to Iraq. The visits had a profound effect on all the musicians, but particularly on Chantal and Raine, who have since become two of War Child’s most vocal and generous supporters. The second film, Rocked, documented Sum 41’s visit the Democratic Republic of Congo. Dramatically, and terrifyingly, the band got caught in the cross fire of a militia raid, and were fortunate to be airlifted to safety by the UN. The subsequent film went on the be nominated for a Gemini Award.
In 2003, in the wake of the second Iraq war, War Child released Peace Songs, a double album featuring exclusive recordings by Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Moby, Avril Lavigne and many more. The album went gold in Canada and funded much needed reconstruction work in the Iraqi education sector. War Child’s most recent high profile release was the Heroes record in 2009, featuring the songs of artists such as Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen and U2. These music legends collaborated with younger artists such as Estelle, the Scissor Sisters and TV On The Radio, inviting them to record covers of their classic songs. The resulting album was acclaimed across North America, including rave reviews in the New York Times and Rolling Stone.
The exposure these music projects generated has served to amplify War Child’s message, particularly to young people; but in the end it is the quality of the work overseas that speaks loudest. War Child’s locally focused approach to development currently serves over 250,000 people in eight countries. All of these programs have one clear aim – to build the capacity of local communities to such a level that War Child is no longer needed. In recent years, War Child has been able to phase out of Iraq and Ghana (as well as the Republic of Georgia), having seen local partners emerge as leaders ready to continue rebuilding, without any further assistance from outside. This, more than anything else, is a real step toward a future in which no child knows war and all children are free to follow their dreams.