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

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.

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Coping with Drought

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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.

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Harvest and Hunger

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

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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.

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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.  

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Political Will

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

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

» 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 »