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




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Starved Bodies, Hungry Minds

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Extending the Reach

I returned from a day in the field with Kenyan smallholder farmers last week to find these words from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as the Newsbrief’s Quote of the Week:

“As I travel around the world talking about American agriculture, the one thing that has struck me is how jealous the rest of the world is about extension, how they would love to have the capacity that we have in this country and often, unfortunately, take for granted, of the ability to reach out and gain very useful information and insights to improve productivity.”

Exactly, I thought.

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Bringing Home the Seeds

It’s been Christmas in February this week for thousands of smallholder farmers in western Kenya.  Seeds and fertilizer for the imminent planting season arrived.

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Reality Check

As the budget battles intensify, a reality check is in order: Slashing foreign aid targeted for boosting development in poor countries will hardly make a dent in the deficit.  The savings will be negligible, but the consequences would be huge.


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Writing on the Wall

The writing on the wall, foretelling the turmoil that has roiled North Africa and the Middle East in recent weeks, appeared during the food crisis of 2008.  It was then that staple food shortages and soaring prices sent protesters into the streets in dozens of countries in the developing world.

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For those of us who were listening to the President’s State of the Union address this week, listening for a reference to the fight against hunger through agriculture development, we heard this near the end of the speech:

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Once again, the great paradox of Africa emerges: hunger in one part of a country, food surplus in another.

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The Task Ahead for the 112th Congress

As 2011 dawns, the United States government is poised to lead the greatest assault on global hunger through agriculture development since the Green Revolution half a century ago.  

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Bowling against Hunger

The college football bowl season, which begins this weekend, celebrates food and eating almost as much as it celebrates gridiron excellence.  Just consider how many of this season’s bowls – Bowls!  The very word comes straight from the kitchen — are sponsored by food companies or named after food:


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Food Is the Foundation

This week in Cancun, international negotiators have been consumed with climate change.  And on Dec. 1, all around the world, red ribbons were out in force for World AIDS Day.

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 »