“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.
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.