June 20, 2018 | By Roger Thurow

1,000 Days and Migrant Stress

The impact of the Trump administration’s practice of separating families crossing the southern border may be carried far into the future by the children who were abruptly taken from their parents.

Pediatricians, psychologists, and child development researchers have been accumulating evidence that stress and trauma can be major contributors to stunted child development, along with poor nutrition and sanitation. The harm can be particularly acute for mothers and children in the first 1,000 days period during pregnancy to the second birthday of the child; it is the time when the foundation for physical growth is established and when the brain is developing most rapidly and expansively. Interruptions in nutrition, disease from bad water and sanitation, and toxic stress can set back cognitive and physical development for a lifetime.

I saw the impact of migration stress while reporting The First 1,000 Days, which chronicles the lives of moms and their children and families through their first 1,000 days in India, Uganda, Guatemala, and Chicago.

In the western highlands of Guatemala, where child malnutrition rates soared past 50%, the moms were members of a nutrition rehabilitation program led by Primeros Pasos, a clinic founded and run by US and Guatemalan medical students. The moms eagerly gathered to learn about the importance of vitamins and minerals, which foods growing in their fields and sold at their markets were most abundant in those nutrients, and how best to cook them and incorporate them into their diets. They also learned how poor sanitation and hygiene could undermine all these nutrition efforts.

Dianet, one of the moms, seemed to be particularly attentive: she took notes, asked questions, and ambitiously followed the cooking recipes. She kept a clean home. Still, her daughter wasn’t thriving. At her first birthday, the daughter was falling behind in physical growth.

The Primeros Pasos nutritionists were puzzled. Dianet said money was tight in the family, and their corn crop was smaller than expected. Still, the nutritionists thought, there must be something more.

Dianet confided that she was worried about her husband’s attempts to migrate to the United States, where he believed he could find a job and better provide for his family. Three times he had tried, traveling overland through Guatemala and then all the way up through Mexico to the US border. Three times he made it across, only to be rounded up by US authorities and sent back.

Now, Dianet’s husband was pressing her to come with him on another attempt, and to bring their daughter as well. Dianet was consumed with fear. Each attempt to get to the United States had cost them a minor fortune – a couple of thousand dollars at least for the guides. Lenders offered money at high rates, and their debt was growing. The trip was arduous and extremely dangerous. It required walking, riding on the tops of trains, being crammed into the backs of trucks, and crossing rivers and harsh terrain. They would follow the same trails used by drug smugglers, and bandits lay in wait to prey on the migrants. And in the US, there could be detention and arrest. Each time her husband left, Dianet worried that she would never see him again.

This was no journey for a child, she told her husband, particularly one as young as their daughter, who was just learning to walk. Dianet doubted that she herself could make it; she felt she still hadn’t regained all her strength after giving birth.

She didn’t know what to do if her husband insisted on making another run. She frantically asked him: What if they arrest you, what would we do? What if we are both detained in the U.S. and the authorities take our daughter? The uncertainty, the risk, the cost, and the possibility of disaster which could include a family separation – it was all an incredible burden that Dianet was carrying.

As the nutritionists listened, they feared that the daughter was getting lost in mom’s worry. For them it was clear: stress in the home could be as debilitating for a child’s development as a lack of nutrition or lousy water, sanitation and hygiene.

At the end of their 1,000 days, Dianet and her daughter were still in Guatemala. The worry had taken a toll on both. But for thousands of other moms and dads in central America who were on the move north with their children, the stress would only multiply.

Archive


| By Roger Thurow

My Moment of Great Disruption

In a 2013 TEDxChange talk, Roger Thurow talks about the smallholder farmers of Africa and the potential for good news in agricultural development.


| By Roger Thurow

Hay Festival 2013: a look at the effects of famine

In the first year classroom of Shemena Godo Primary School, in Boricha, Ethiopia, three dozen children study the alphabet. On a black chalkboard, teacher Chome Muse highlights the letter B and writes the combination with each vowel. Ba, be, bi, bo, bu.

| By Roger Thurow

A Mother's Day parable from Uganda

A mother knows. “This child is brilliant,” Harriet Okaka says about her one-year-old son, Abraham.  She isn’t bragging, just observing.  “I can tell, just by looking at him,” she says, “the way he plays, the way he is.”

| By Roger Thurow

1,000 Days Project

Roger Thurow’s next book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

| By Roger Thurow

Imagine this: food aid reform

As word spread earlier this week of the food aid reform section of President Obama’s 2014 budget, I wondered how Jerman Amente would greet the news.


| By Roger Thurow

Give peas a chance

As the ballots were being counted in the recent Kenya election, I saw photos of people displaying the encouraging message: Give Peace a Chance.  So far, that sentiment seems to be holding.


| By Roger Thurow

Forward ever

The young man from the farm was looking smart in an olive green suit, salmon tie and cufflinks.  His black shoes were a bit scuffed, but his English was polished.  “We are moving forward,” he said.  “Forward ever, backward never.”

| By Roger Thurow

Learning to Fish

In the vast assembly room at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, overlooking one of the nation’s premier food banking facilities, Drexton Granberry joyfully came to the end of his speech.  


| By Roger Thurow

A Thanksgiving Tale: The Hungercloth

I often write and speak about the awful oxymoron, "Hungry Farmers." How can the smallholder farmers of Africa suffer through an annual hunger season when every morning they rise with one task: grow food for their families?


Multimedia

Videos


 


Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days

In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.

» Learn more.
» Order your copy of the book.

Books

The First 1,000 Days

Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

Learn more »

The Last Hunger Season

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

Learn more »

EnoughEnough

Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.

Learn more »