November 22, 2013 | By Roger Thurow

The Dreams of New Mothers


Seema (left) and Sanju tending their babies in India.
Photo credit: Anne Thurow


In the rural Indian village of Barjor Khera, Seema Kumar cradled her two month old daughter, Deepansi, in her arms.  It was a time to dream of the future.

“I wish for her a good education and a good job,” Seema said.  “And a good marriage.”

Seema’s sister-in-law and neighbor, Sanju Kumar, sat beside her on the stoop between their humble houses.  Her son, Adarsh, was born 13 days after Deepansi.  “I want him to be a wise person,” she said.  “He will need a good education.”

Neither of the mothers had ever gone to school.  Both illiterate, they treasure education for their children.

In another rural village, in northern Uganda, another mom dreams big.  “I want him to be a businessman,” Esther Okwir said about her 10-week old son Rodgers.  They were sitting on a thatched mat under a shade tree behind their house in the village of Barjwinya.  It was a cool, quiet place for breastfeeding and mother-child bonding.  “If he gets the education, he can be a manager, an accountant,” Esther continued.

A hemisphere away, in Guatemala’s Palajunoj Valley, Maria Delfina Camacho envisioned her one month old son Jose getting the education she never did; she only made it to sixth grade.  “I wanted to go further,” she said.  “But I couldn’t.”  Jose will, she hopes; it will be his way out of the valley.

On Chicago’s south side, Jessica Saldana admired her six-day-old daughter, Alitzel, who was sleeping in her arms.  “I see her being an honor student.  I see her playing sports like me,” Jessica said.  “And there will be music in her life, maybe playing the violin.”

The dreams of new mothers are similar all around the world.  Some of the details may vary at the edges, but at the center is a good education.

And critical to a good education is good nutrition, particularly in the 1,000 days from the time a woman becomes pregnant through the child’s second birthday.  Brain development in this time is rapid, fueled by valuable micronutrients.  Any nutritional deficiencies – either from lack of food or a bad diet, or from parasites which deprive the body of the nutrients – delay the brain’s development, sometimes irreparably.  It is in the first two years of life when stunting begins, impeding a child’s ability to reach his or her full physical and mental potential.  This brief period can determine a child’s future performance in school, and, by extension, future employment and earnings.


Esther and Rodgers after breastfeeding in northern Uganda.
Photo credit: Anne Thurow


“We’ve got a lot of very good evidence now that shows that kids who are undernourished in the first 1,000 days perform much more poorly in school, they’re more likely to drop out earlier,” John Hoddinott, senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute, recently told National Public Radio.  “When they’re given tests of cognitive ability, of non-cognitive skills, they perform less well on those two.”  The consequences, he added in the interview, are clear: “Better educated people are more productive, more productive people earn higher wages, people with higher wages earn higher incomes.”

Peter Orazem, professor of economics at Iowa State University, asks in his research, “Specifically in my area of education, why do I care about something that’s going to improve the quality of secondary education if the kids are stunted physically and mentally before they even start school?  Malnutrition before age five permanently harms brain development and earnings for a lifetime…That’s why these nutrients are so important.”

Hoddinott and Orazem were contributors supporting the findings of the Copenhagen Consensus, an international group of economists and big thinkers who concluded that advances in conquering malnutrition, particularly early in life, would have the greatest impact on improving the state of the world.

These advances — be they biofortification of staple crops with iron and Vitamin A (in Uganda), behavior change surrounding infant care (in India), better diets and sanitation (in Guatemala), improved access to nutritious foods and early education (in Chicago) – may also have the greatest impact on improving the lives of Deepansi and Ardash and Rodgers and Jose and Alitzel.

And on fulfilling the dreams of their mothers.

Roger’s international reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Archive

| By Roger Thurow

Impatience

Bill Gates calls himself an “impatient optimist.”

Would that we all shared his optimism and, especially, his impatience.

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Marching Forth

They are marching again in Alabama with no less passion than the civil rights campaigners of the 1960s.

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Going Together

In the new initiative to end hunger through agriculture development, an old African proverb is lighting the way: If you want to go fast, go it alone.  If you want to go far, go together.

| By Roger Thurow

Beyond the Emergency

Before the calamitous earthquake, Haiti was in the news for another tremor: the global food crisis of 2008.

| By Roger Thurow

Unity of Purpose

Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, stands as a monument to how one determined individual can make a huge difference in the fight against hunger.  But he often stressed that it took an army of individuals, with a unity of purpose, to win the war.

| By Roger Thurow

Can't Lead Abroad While Losing at Home

In 2003, while reporting in the famine fields of Africa, I met an American aid worker who suggested I expand my research on global hunger: “You should look into hunger in America, too,” she suggested.

| By Roger Thurow

A Hunger Czar Talks… and Talks

His travels may take him to Ethiopia, Malawi, Lesotho or to the far corners of Ireland.  His meetings may be with heads of state, parliamentarians, budgetary bean counters or with farmers and school children.  His missions may range from promoting new conservation tilling techniques to considering the role of breast pumps in improving infant nutrition in Africa.

| By Roger Thurow

From Words to Action: A Rwandan Beginning

They were listening in the hills of Rwanda a year ago when a new American president, this one with African lineage, took the oath of office.  Minutes into his inaugural address, Barack Obama stirred their hopes:

“To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow, to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.”

| By Roger Thurow

Why Not Hunger?

Given the carnage of the first decade of the 21st Century, the humanitarian front would seem an unlikely source for a beacon of light.  But here it is, shining through the gloom:

Where grassroots clamor is raised, wonders follow.

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?


Enough

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.


1,000 Days Project

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.


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 »