Sam Childers is something of a legend. A self-confessed drug addict, cocaine peddler and alcoholic, Childers, 51, today travels all over the globe talking to the youth about the evils of drugs and alcohol. He went to South Sudan and was shocked to see the misery caused by the civil war.
And while he opened orphanages, he also joined hands with the forces opposing president Omar al-Bashir, 66. The North-South war in Sudan has resulted in the deaths of about two million people and has rendered four million persons homeless. South Sudan attained Independence on July 9, 2011, but remains a nation condemned to utter poverty, violence and disease. Childers, who is in Mumbai to receive the Mother Teresa Award, wrote about his experience in his best-selling book, Another Man’s War which inspired a hugely successful film Machinegun Preacher directed by Marc Forster. Childers, who is a brand ambassador of the Harley Davidson bike cult, spoke exclusively to dna’s city editor S Balakrishnan on Sunday. Excerpts:
What made you take to drugs, alcohol, etc?
I took to drugs, including marijuana, cocaine and heroin, and alcohol when I was only 11. I was born in North Dakota, but lived in several cities in the US because of the nature of my father’s job.
Wherever I went, the youth thought it cool do drugs and take alcohol. I was no exception. We boys thought that the girls liked it that way. By the time I was 15, I had become an addict and had even started peddling drugs like cocaine. I was part of motorcycle gangs. I offered security to drug cartels. I was jailed several times, but was never convicted.
How did you rid yourself of these addictions?
In 1990, I was involved in a fight in a bar in Orlando, Florida. I was almost killed. I decided to return home. Something deep inside me told me to quit drugs and alcohol. I think it was the call of Jesus. I told my wife to pack up and said ‘we have to leave the city otherwise I would be killed’. We moved hundreds of miles away to Samsville in Pennsylvania to start a new life. I am grateful to Jesus for showing me the correct path. I decided to talk extensively to youth across the US and tell them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. I also tell them about the death of my son Wayne who died of drug overdose.
How did you land in South Sudan?
I think that was also because of the call of Jesus. A massive civil war was raging between North and Southern Sudan which resulted in a huge human tragedy. In 1998, I went to Yei in Southern Sudan where I came across the body of a child who was killed in a mine blast. That tragedy shook me. In fact, the children were the worst victims of the civil war. People believe that the civil war was a religious one between the Muslim-dominated North led by president Omar al-Bashir and Christians in South Sudan. This is a wrong belief. The fact is that president al-Bashir has been targeting his own people who have been protesting against his atrocities. He calls for jihad and justifies the violence he has unleashed on innocent people, including children. My first task was to pull out the landmines so that the casualties can be reduced. Then I started a mobile clinic to provide medical aid and vaccination facilities to the people, who had zero access to even basic medical facilities.
But why did you get involved in the war?
I was in Nimule in South Sudan when there was a raid by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which is a mercenary force backed by al-Bashir. I saw the brutality of the LRA and felt that it was my moral duty to oppose its atrocities on the poor. Simultaneously, I started orphanages not only in South Sudan, but also in neighbouring Uganda where refugees had fled. Every day, my team supplies 4,000 meals for the poorest of poor. We also run schools. Apart from donations from well-wishers I have diverted the royalties from my book and the film for my social work. The situation in places like Darfur continues to be atrocious.
How long do you plan to continue to stay in Africa?
I will never quit South Sudan. My mission is to provide relief to the war-affected persons and also to put an end to the atrocities of the al-Bashir regime, which is interfering in the internal affairs of South Sudan. I want to die in South Sudan.
But, don’t you think that the civil war is essentially about oil? South Sudan has huge crude oil deposits which the North wants to control?
Of course, oil is central to the war. But, the North has to pay for the oil it gets from the South. al-Bashir himself has admitted that he took away oil worth $880 million just like that. He has been found guilty of war crimes by international bodies, yet no one is willing to act against him and his continuing atrocities. Whoever gets oil from South Sudan has to pay for it, so that the revenue can be utilised to lift the millions of hapless people of that country from the depths of poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy.
Do you have any role model?
Yes. It is Mother Teresa. Her life story has moved me immensely. I will consider my life a success if I can do even a fraction of the good work she has done for humanity.
In 1990, I was involved in a bar fight in Orlando. I was almost killed. I decided to return home. Something deep inside me told me to quit drugs and alcohol. I think it was the call of Jesus
My mission is to provide relief to the war-affected persons and also to put an end to the atrocities of the al-Bashir regime, which is interfering in the internal affairs of South Sudan. I want to die in South Sudan.