Join Me to #FightToxins

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Seventh Generation, but the text, thoughts and worries are my own. 

I do my best to shop consciously. I often consider the impact my purchases will make on the environment and my own health.

Since becoming a mom, I’ve become far more aware of the dangers that lurk in the simple things we use every day, such as the chemicals in household cleaners. There are certain brands that make me feel sick after I’ve used them. I don’t use those brands anymore, but it makes me wonder what the heck was in those bottles.

Being in charge of my two boys’ lives is something I don’t take lightly. While I can’t keep them in a bubble (darn it), I can pay attention to what they are exposed to.

Did you know?

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We’ve all heard of the dangers of Bisphenol A (BPA), but what about the chemicals we don’t hear about? I was surprised to find out that more than 80,000 chemicals available in the United States have never been fully tested for their toxic effects on our health and environment. 80,000!

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed in 1976, and unlike other major environmental laws, has never been updated.  I was born in 1976. That’s a long time to leave such an important law dormant. Because of the lack of action, tens of thousands of potentially harmful chemicals continue to be used in the marketplace without proper testing and without disclosure by the companies that produce them.

What’s the risk?

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Exposure to toxic chemicals can cause a whole host of health problems. Scientists have linked exposure to toxic chemicals to Cancer, Alzheimer’s, learning disabilities, asthma, birth defects, and various reproductive problems.

What you can do: Demand that Congress reevaluate the Toxic Substances Control Act for the first time since 1976 

I signed the petition for safer chemicals and asked Congress to hold companies responsible for the safety of the ingredients they use. I hope you will join me.

With your help, Seventh Generation will spread awareness about the 37 year-old TSCA and start conversations about how it fails to protect the health of the general public. The goal is for the “Toxin Freedom Fighters” to deliver 100,000 signatures to Congress on April 30, 2014. I hear we are getting close!

In addition to signing the petition, you can also help spread the word about the #FightToxins campaign through your social media network. Seventh Generation has some great images you can share on their FightToxins.com website.

Will you join me to #FightToxins and help spread the word? 

For additional background on the TSCA, visit this website.

I wrote this post as part of the Global Team of 200, a highly specialized group of Mom Bloggers for Social Good members who focus on maternal health, children, hunger, and women and girls. It is part of a 24-hour blog carnival. You can read more newborn health posts on the Global Team of 200 site.

The Importance of Nutrition in the First 1,000 Days

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“Can you ask how old they are?” I said to my translator, Dixie.

He asked in Miskitu as I waited. The two young girls were the daughters of the woman whose house we were underneath. Sweating and gulping our now warm bottled water, we were desperately trying to shade ourselves from the hot, midday Nicaraguan sun.

The girls’ mother wasn’t at the house. I’m not sure where she was. Maybe fetching water from the river or food from her crops. We were with Linda learning about the work she was doing to build a well for the homeowner. The girls would later follow us on the short walk to Linda’s house so they could eat lunch. Other than Linda and our #WaterAidNica team, they had no supervision.

The girls were 7 and 4, each one year younger than my own two boys.

“Are you sure?” I asked perplexed. My boys were much bigger than these girls. I almost didn’t believe Dixie.

And then I realized I was seeing the impact of malnutrition with my own eyes.

They seems healthy enough. They smiled and played like little girls play. They hid from us, sneaking peeks every now and then, and dangled their feet above where we were sitting and taking notes.

During my week in Nicaragua, I barely ate a vegetable. My diet consisted mainly of rice, beans, plantains and chicken. I had an occasional piece of avocado and watermelon. One day, I had the opportunity to drink from a coconut freshly cut from a tree. It was not nearly enough nutrients for my body. By the end of the week, I could feel the difference. My stomach felt heavy from all the starch. I was sluggish and craved a big salad.

The people in the rural communities we visited didn’t go to a grocery store each week to shop for food. They lived off the land. While we saw tomatoes, squash and cucumbers growing in Linda’s garden, most weren’t ready to be eaten yet. During the time that the fields are being prepared and new crops are planted and grown, many families don’t bother to light a fire in their kitchen. There simply isn’t food to be cooked.

March is National Nutrition Month and the 1,000 Days Partnership organized an online “march” to raise awareness about the critical role of nutrition in the 1,000 day window from a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

Proper nutrition from pregnancy to age 2 is critical. If a mother lacks nutrients when she is pregnant, so will her baby. During infancy, a mother’s breast milk not only provides nutrition, it also provides immunization against illness and disease. In the first two years of a baby’s life, proper nutrients from a variety of healthy foods ensures healthy growth and brain development.

I wonder what kind of nutrition those two girls were able to have during their first two years of life. I wonder what kind of nutrition their mother was able to receive and provide.

Following is an infographic that explains what causes maternal and child malnutrition. I urge you to visit ThousandDays.org for more information and find out how you can get involved in the fight against malnutrition.

What-Causes-Maternal-and-Child-Malnutrition-Infographic

click the image to enlarge

I wrote this post as part of the Global Team of 200, a highly specialized group of Mom Bloggers for Social Good members who focus on maternal health, children, hunger, and women and girls. It is part of a 24-hour blog carnival. You can read more newborn health posts on the Global Team of 200 site.

Transportation in Nicaragua: Planes, Push-Cars and Pickup Trucks

My #WaterAidNica trip started with your standard flight. After a very long layover in the Atlanta (GA) airport, my teammates for the week and I met up and boarded the plane that would take us to the capital city of Nicaragua, Managua.

Except it didn’t. Barely in the air, the pilot made an announcement about the radio not working properly. We needed to turn around and head back to Atlanta. To make matters worse, the pilot explained that the plane was too heavy to land and we needed to burn some fuel for about an hour. In the meantime, he was working on if/when/how we might get to Nicaragua that evening.

Once we landed safely back in Atlanta – an airport I was quite sick of at that point – we were told that a plane was ready for us two gates over. We could see it from our seats. The challenge was that we had to board that new plane in an extremely short window of time. Why? Because the Managua airport closed at midnight, and if we didn’t make it on time, we’d need to find another airport that would allow us to land.

12-seater plane

My #WaterAidNica teammate, Caitlin, and I enjoyed some cafe (sans a cover) on the small plane. Photo by Alanna Imbach.

We did end up making it to Managua that night, though it was close. Not long after we were back in the air, the flight attendants were asking for any doctors or nurses on the flight to help with a medical emergency. Luckily, it was just a bloody nose on a scared little girl. The crew, who were working overtime at that point, was spectacular.

We arrived in Managua late, but still before midnight. Our hotel was across the street, so we didn’t have far to go. A good thing since our next flight, the one I was more worried about, was early the next morning. A 5:00am meeting in the hotel lobby awaited us.

Surprising, the 12-seater plane that we took from Managua, on the Pacific side of the country, to Bilwi, on the Caribbean coast, was the smoothest ride of our entire trip. Being a domestic flight, we did not know what to expect. There are only a couple of these flights a day, and air travel in Nicaragua isn’t overly regulated. It ended up being a beautiful ride that showed us a glimpse of Nicaragua from the air at sunrise.

Once we got through the “airport” in Bilwi (it was not your typical airport), we were met by WaterAid’s amazing country director, Joshua Briemberg. Joshua had a vehicle ready for us. Unfortunately, it did not start. We ended up having to push the car to get it going. A task we would do repeatedly during the week. By the end, we chalked it up to team building. Honestly, it was pretty fun.

Caitlin, a journalist, Dixie, our fabulous translator, and me after pushing our car for the week to get it started in the morning

Caitlin, a journalist, Dixie, our fabulous translator, and me after pushing our car for the week to get it started in the morning.

In case you are wondering why I’m looking at my hands in the above picture, here’s what the back of the car looked like:

The back of our car for the week. Nicaragua has brown, clay-like soil, which gets everywhere!

The back of our car for the week. Nicaragua has brown, clay-like soil, which gets everywhere!

Transportation was a strong theme for me in Nicaragua because it affected everything. It’s not easy to get from one point A to point B in the country, especially on the Caribbean coast, where we were. The roads aren’t paved and are barely maintained. It took us about two hours to travel roughly 40 miles. We actually lucked out with the roads since we were visiting during the dry season. While we encountered huge holes in the road and extremely uneven terrain, we were told the roads were as good as they get during the year. During the rainy season, parts of the road flood and become impassable. Crossing the river becomes a challenge as well.

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Waiting for the barge to pick us up and take us across the Wawa River.

Speaking of crossing rivers, we had to get out of the car and wait for a barge to cross the Wawa River. It was, well, probably not the most well-maintained barges. As you can see from the picture above, cars, buses and people cross the river via the barge. There were also people selling food on the edge. We barely made the barge on our way back from a visit to one of the rural communities one evening. It apparently closes for an hour a couple of times per day. If you miss it, you simply have to wait until someone comes back to run it. We got the car on the barge with just seconds to spare!

A popular mode of transportation for locals was the motorbike. For fun, we strapped a GoPro camera on Joshua, WaterAid's country director.

A popular mode of transportation for locals was the motorbike. For fun, we strapped a GoPro camera on Joshua, WaterAid’s country director.

I asked a lot about transportation during our trip. I found out that there are communities that have no road access. You have to drive as far as you can and then take a boat or plane to reach the most remote places. As you can expect, these are the hardest communities to work in and provide access to clean water and sanitation. The cost of transportation is a huge barrier to water access. In fact, many water organizations have left Nicaragua due to the prohibitive costs of transportation, both to reach rural communities and to purchase and deliver the materials needed for building wells, installing toilets and other structures. WaterAid America is in some of the most remote areas of Nicaragua and assessing more areas in which to work. The key to their success so far is getting community members involved from the beginning, training them to build and maintain water systems themselves.

selfie wawa river

I took this selfie in a dugout canoe on the Wawa River!

Linda (whom I wrote more about last Friday) took Caitlin and I in her dugout canoe across the river to see her crops. Without a car, or even electricity in her house, she lived very simply. When I asked Joshua what pregnant women did when they went into labor, he noted that they would have to find a way to get themselves to Bilwi, where the closest hospital was located. (It sounds like Joshua has had a few interesting childbirth moments in the back seat of his car!) Of course, the lack of transportation and the difficulty of getting from the rural areas to the city contributes to newborn and maternal mortality rates.

And let’s not forget that many women and children without water access are forced to walk several hours during the day to retrieve water from the river. Unfortunately, this action not only takes them away from their children and other daily duties, but the water is not safe to use.

A well installed by WaterAid and community members means that this mom does not have to leave her children multiple times per day to fetch water.

A well installed by WaterAid and community members means that this mom does not have to leave her children multiple times per day to fetch water.

On our last day in Nicaragua, we had the opportunity to act like tourists in Managua. Joshua was kind enough to help us find a taxi we could trust, as the city is not the safest place to explore and the taxis can be dangerous. Just another mode of transportation to be concerned with. Our driver took us to an active volcano and a few places to find souvenirs.

Oh, and did I mention on our last day in Bilwi, we rode to the airport in the back of a pickup truck?

My ride to the airport in Bilwi was in the back of a pickup truck. A fitting way to end our staff on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.

My ride to the airport in Bilwi was in the back of a pickup truck. A fitting way to end our stay on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua.

As I stepped into my Ford Explorer this morning to drive for the first time in over a week, I couldn’t help but be thankful for my car that started on the first try, well-paved roads (even with the frost heaves!), my close proximity to two hospitals, and easy access to clean water and toilets.

What transportation challenges have you faced?

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