Area man de­ter­mined to give aid in Africa

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAVE PEROZEK

SPRING­DALE — Even a med­i­cal emer­gency and a stay of more than two days in a di­lap­i­dated hos­pi­tal hasn’t de­terred Sam Tot­ten from con­tin­u­ing his hu­man­i­tar­ian trips to a war zone, thou­sands of miles from his North­west Arkansas home.

“As long as I’m rel­a­tively healthy and have the abil­ity to pull it off, it just seems self­ish, in a way, not to do it,” Tot­ten said. “Or heart­less, or what­ever you want to call it.”

Tot­ten, 68, lives east of Spring­dale in a quiet, ver­dant

neigh­bor­hood over­look­ing Beaver Lake. It’s a far cry from the Nuba Moun­tains of Su­dan, a war-torn re­gion to which he’s trav­eled sev­eral times over the past five years on mis­sions to feed hun­gry civil­ians.

He spends thou­sands of his own dol­lars on each trip. He also spends his own money, as well as do­na­tions from oth­ers, on food for the Nuban peo­ple.

His most re­cent trip was last month. Tot­ten ar­ranged the de­liv­ery of more than 6 tons of rice, sorghum, beans, cook­ing oil and salt — all worth about $9,000 — to Nuba refugees in Uganda, which bor­ders South Su­dan. He also bought 650 re­us­able fem­i­nine pads for the refugees.

Tot­ten said he wasn’t able to see the de­liv­ery through be­fore he left be­cause of the heavy red tape in­volved. A doc­tor with whom Tot­ten trav­eled, along with a “fixer” he hired, even­tu­ally got the job done. A fixer is some­one who has con­nec­tions in­side gov­ern­ment and else­where and can pull strings to get cer­tain jobs done, Tot­ten said.

“We had to get per­mis­sion from the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice to in­tro­duce any items into any of the (refugee) camps, whether it’s food or what­ever,” he said.

He had hoped to spend time in the camps in­ter­view­ing refugees, but his plan was de­railed by an un­ex­pected ill­ness. He woke up early one morn­ing with gas­troin­testi­nal pain. The pain wors­ened as sev­eral hours passed.

“I was in agony,” he said. He ended up in a hos­pi­tal in north­ern Uganda, a set­ting

he de­scribed as hot, buggy and lack­ing ameni­ties — such as soap and toi­let pa­per — most Amer­i­cans would ex­pect in a hos­pi­tal room. Bats came into the room at night, and no one changed his bed sheets dur­ing the 2½ days he was there, he said.

In ad­di­tion, ev­ery­one at the hos­pi­tal had to cook their own food.

“So ev­ery morn­ing and late af­ter­noon, you’d hear all this noise, and it was peo­ple out­side start­ing fires and cook­ing their own food,” he said.

He was told re­peat­edly a med­i­cal-evac­u­a­tion flight was be­ing ar­ranged to take him some­where else, but the flight never ma­te­ri­al­ized. He fi­nally de­cided to re­turn to Kampala, the cap­i­tal of Uganda. He caught a flight from there to Ki­gali, Rwanda, be­fore re­turn­ing to the United States.

“It was a suc­cess­ful trip, but it was mis­er­able and I didn’t ac­com­plish ev­ery­thing I wanted to,” Tot­ten said. “But the main thing is, we got the food there.”

Kath­leen Barta, Tot­ten’s wife, was at a fundraiser with friends when she got the call about his ill­ness. It was a scary time, she said.

“But I’m grate­ful for the friend he was trav­el­ing with,” she said. “They made some good de­ci­sions.”

It was the sec­ond time Tot­ten ex­pe­ri­enced a med­i­cal prob­lem while on one of his mis­sion trips. In Jan­uary 2016, he passed out and hit his head in a shower in a refugee camp in South Su­dan, send­ing him to a makeshift hos­pi­tal. He even­tu­ally was evac­u­ated by air­plane to a hos­pi­tal in Nairobi, Kenya, where he stayed for five days.

Barta wor­ries about her hus­band, but ad­mires his

will­ing­ness to do what he can.

“His life has been com­mit­ted to hu­man rights is­sues,” Barta said. “I wouldn’t be the one to stop Sam from do­ing the work. I think at this stage of his ca­reer, it’s a pow­er­ful ex­am­ple for peo­ple to do some­thing and not be a by­stander.”

Tot­ten said Barta is amaz­ingly sup­port­ive of him, though he ap­pre­ci­ates the anx­i­ety his trips cause her.

“I don’t want to be cav­a­lier and say, ‘Well, I’m go­ing to keep go­ing, no mat­ter what,’” Tot­ten said. “If it starts eat­ing away at her, then that’s not fair.”

Tot­ten, a scholar of geno­cide stud­ies, taught at the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas for 25 years. His home of­fice is filled with books on geno­cide, some of which he has writ­ten or edited. He will teach a course on geno­cide at Chap­man Uni­ver­sity in Or­ange, Calif., this fall.

Philip Tutu is a na­tive of the Nuba Moun­tains liv­ing in Kansas City, Mo. Tutu, 53, has known Tot­ten for six years. He com­pli­mented Tot­ten on the work he does.

“We have a cri­sis in Su­dan, and he has al­ways cared about our peo­ple and al­ways wanted to bring the story out to tell peo­ple about it,” Tutu said. “He is car­ing and has a good heart for peo­ple. He’s risk­ing his life to go help oth­ers.”

Con­flict in Su­dan is noth­ing new, but the cur­rent cri­sis in the Nuba Moun­tains re­gion is most di­rectly traced to 2011, when the coun­try of South Su­dan was born. Two Su­danese prov­inces that wished to join the new na­tion were ex­cluded, so a re­bel­lion sprang up against Pres­i­dent Omar al-Bashir’s gov­ern­ment.

The Su­danese gov­ern­ment has waged war against the rebels, but the gov­ern­ment also has been crit­i­cized for tar­get­ing civil­ians in the re­gion. The In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court has charged al-Bashir with crimes against hu­man­ity, in­clud­ing geno­cide, in con­nec­tion with vi­o­lence against Dar­fur.

Tot­ten es­ti­mates he’s prob­a­bly spent well over $20,000 of his own money not only on the food he’s de­liv­ered to Nubans, but also the air­fare and ve­hi­cle rental needed for his trips. He pays for it all with roy­al­ties from his books and the money he makes from talks he gives na­tion­ally on geno­cide. He makes $3,000 from each talk he gives, he said.

Oth­ers have been fi­nan­cially sup­port­ive of his work, how­ever. A lo­cal ed­u­ca­tor do­nated $1,000. St. Paul’s Epis­co­pal Church in Fayet­teville, the Quak­ers of Fayet­teville and var­i­ous other geno­cide schol­ars have con­trib­uted as well, Tot­ten said.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAVE PEROZEK

Sam Tot­ten, a geno­cide ex­pert and for­mer Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas pro­fes­sor, stands Thurs­day in his home of­fice in Spring­dale. Tot­ten re­turned last month from a trip to east Africa to bring food to civil­ians in the Nuba Moun­tains of Su­dan.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.