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

African Farmers: Surviving or Thriving?

It is one of Africa’s cruelest ironies that as the planting season begins, as it is now across much of the continent, so does the hunger season. The food stocks from the previous harvest are running low and it will be several months before the next harvest comes in. Whatever food remains in the household is rationed: portions shrink, meals are skipped, malnutrition rises.


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There is little mail service in rural Africa, so the smallholder farmers there wouldn’t have received last week’s annual letter of U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah.  But they certainly would welcome his words.

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I’m surprised that “surprise” is a word being used to describe President Obama’s nomination of Jim Yong Kim to head the World Bank.  Surprise, perhaps, over the specific name, because Dr. Kim hadn’t figured prominently in the speculation of who would replace current World Bank president Robert Zoellick.

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The Rising Power of Women Farmers

The most common tool in African agriculture is also the most impractical.  Or at least it appears to be.  It is the hoe, which is used for plowing, planting, weeding and harvesting.  It is a simple tool that produces the majority of the continent’s food, and yet it has remained unchanged over the centuries, defying any technological advance.

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Looking Back, Moving Forward

At President Obama’s first international summit, the G8 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy in July 2009, he rallied his fellow rich world leaders to commit to investing $22 billion to conquer global hunger through agricultural development.  He spoke passionately about both the moral obligation and the global security imperative of ending hunger and the despair and hopelessness such deep poverty breeds.

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Mr. Xi Goes to Iowa

Those were interesting photos from the dusty archives that appeared in various newspapers and TV reports this week, pictures of a visitor from China inspecting hogs, vegetable farms and grain processing facilities in Iowa back in 1985.  It became downright fascinating when it turned out that visitor, Xi Jinping, was now returning to the U.S., and to Iowa, as the vice president of China.  Oh, and he is presumed to be China’s next president.

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Global Collaboration

At the foot of Mount Kenya, a patch of maize stalks are defying the odds.  They are standing tall and robust in a trial field where the soil had been intentionally depleted of nitrogen, one of the essential nutrients for maize.

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Learning by Doing

Learning by doing is the philosophy of the Pan-American agricultural school known as Zamorano in Honduras.  Students come to class every day dressed in their uniform of blue jeans and blue shirt.  They come to work, not just to study; more often than not, their classrooms are the fields and the food production plants on campus.  They plant seeds and pull weeds and milk cows and nurture fish and make ice cream and inseminate queen bees.

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Sidetracked

A not so funny thing happened on the way to the G20 meeting in Cannes last week.

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The Right Vote

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Girls Grow

The teenagers of rural western Kenya I have met during the past year have no shortage of ambition.  Especially the girls.  They want to be doctors and nurses and teachers and lawyers and pilots.


Multimedia

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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.

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» 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 »