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

Remembering the Post-9/11 Promises to Raise Foreign Aid

The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is bringing back a rush of memories and emotions.  Everyone it seems is recalling, with respect for the victims, where they were on that day when they heard or watched the horrific news.

| By Roger Thurow

Coping with Drought

With drought devastating farms from the Horn of Africa to the Panhandle of Texas, I journeyed to one of the frontlines of climate change to “chew the news,” as the Maasai say.

| By Roger Thurow

Harvest and Hunger – Part 2

At 6:30 this morning, as the sun was coming up, Sanet Biketi walked out of his small house made of mud and sticks.  Carrying a machete at his side, he headed straight to the edge of his maize field and said a prayer of thanksgiving for the arrival of harvest day.

| By Roger Thurow

Harvest and Hunger

Two scenes from the great African paradox of surplus and shortage – feast and famine – in the same country.

| By Roger Thurow

Empty Promises, Empty Stomachs

The promises made by the leaders of the rich world in L’Aquila, Italy, two years ago were supposed to stop what is now happening in the Horn of Africa. But those pledges haven’t been kept, and starvation is raging once again.

| By Roger Thurow

Rowing in the Same Direction

Vision.  Strategy.  Tactics.

These were the priorities that emerged at my table during a discussion about the role of U.S. universities, government agencies, NGOs, foundations and the African diplomatic community in advancing African development.  

| By Roger Thurow

Political Will

The Nigerian ambassador to the U.S., Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye, tells an acerbic joke to illustrate the importance of good leadership.

| By Roger Thurow

Countering Drought

This growing season in south-central Kenya has been a good test for the new drought tolerant maize varieties being bred in Africa.  This is a semi-arid area, but this year they can drop the semi.  Farmers report only three short periods of rain since the February planting time.

| By Roger Thurow

Cool Beans

For some farmers in western Kenya, the hunger season I wrote about last week is coming to a mercifully early end.  A new variety of bean is ready for harvest.


| By Roger Thurow

Big Brains on Little Brains

Little brains were on the minds of some pretty big brains in the fight against hunger at the Chicago Council’s Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security this week.

| By Roger Thurow

The Importance of Innovation

Bill Gates came to the Chicago Council’s Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security with a confession.  “I’ve never been a farmer,” he said.  “Until recently, I rarely set foot on farm.”

| By Roger Thurow

Public Policy Matters

I enjoyed the great privilege of giving my first commencement speech on Sunday, to the graduating class of the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin.  I had eagerly anticipated the ceremony, knowing that the passion to shape a more just world inspires young policy makers as mightily as it fuels journalists.

| By Roger Thurow

Something to Cut

With many words in this column, we have discussed what not to cut from the federal budget.  Namely, administration requests to fund agriculture development, especially in Africa, under the Feed the Future initiative and the Global Agriculture Food Security Program.

| By Roger Thurow

Yin and Yang of Foreign Aid

Here is the Yin and the Yang of development aid spending: In the U.S., it is on the chopping block, threatened by budget cutters sharpening their knives; in China it is on an expansion course, favored by a government seeking to accumulate influence and riches in the developing world, particularly Africa.

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 »