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“Our children’s cognitive development represents Uganda’s greatest natural resource.”

– Wilson Muruuli Mukasa,
Ugandan Minister

Uganda

UGANDA, hailed as the Pearl of Africa by European explorers, a place where you could put a stick in the ground and it would grow, and yet where more than half of all women of childbearing age are anemic and about 35% of the children are stunted from malnourishment.

The narrative takes places in northern Uganda, in rural villages near the main city of Lira. Here, mere survival has been a lofty achievement in a harsh climate for both agriculture and peace.

Esther

“Your child can achieve great things,” midwife Susan Ejang told new moms and moms-to-be gathered on the veranda of a clinic for a nutrition lesson. The first 1,000 Days, she said, is when your hopes for your child begin to be fulfilled. Esther (front row, in orange shirt, to the right of Susan) dearly wanted to believe what she heard.

Esther, about five months pregnant

Esther

It was an audacious statement in northern Uganda, where moms rarely dared to dream great things for their children. But Esther was on the frontlines of efforts to raise healthier children with better nutrition; as a farmer, she was growing new crops with higher nutrient content: vitamin A-rich orange sweet potatoes and high-iron beans. She delivered a healthy son, Rodgers.

Esther and Tonny and Rodgers—about seven weeks

Esther

It was a program called biofortification, introduced by HarvestPlus and implemented in her village by World Vision. The new crops were the first solid foods Rodgers ate – mashed up sweet potatoes and beans -- and he grew tall and strong. He is one of the new generation of biofortified babies in Africa.

Esther and Rodgers—9 months

Esther

Rodgers’ growth and development faltered for a few weeks as he turned one and battled a bout of malaria. Esther believes the nutritious foods aided his recovery and fortified him in the weeks after. A ceaseless crawler, Rodgers stood up and walked seconds after this photo was taken.

Rodgers—about 14 months

Esther

Esther worked in the fields with her son on his second birthday. She was at the vanguard of a new generation of moms, bringing forth a child as her country began to stress the importance of good nutrition and health in the 1,000 Days.

Esther and Rodgers—2 years

Harriet

Harriet’s pregnancy was going well until the final month. Then she began suffering from dizziness and headaches.

Harriet—pregnant, with husband Moses and eldest son in front of their home

Harriet

When she began suffering dizziness and headaches from high blood pressure, the midwife at the local clinic sent her to the regional hospital, where nurses said she should rest. At the hospital to deliver, the ultrasound was working but Harriet couldn’t afford it. When she delivered twins, it was a surprise to her and the doctors.

Harriet and daughter Apio—1 month

Harriet

Only Apio – her name means “the first of twin girls” -- survived. Poverty, and the lack of health care infrastructure, undermined her efforts to eat healthier. In Uganda and throughout the world, the first day of life is the most perilous day.

Harriet and Apio—7 months

Harriet

As Apio grew, Harriet proclaimed her aspiration for her daughter: “I hope she will be educated so she can be a nurse or a doctor. Then there will be someone in the hospital to help me and others, so that no other mother loses her daughter, and no other girl loses her sister.”

Harriet and Apio—22 months—coming from the field with orange sweet potatoes

Brenda

Brenda’s first pregnancy was difficult; she was tired, often ill, unable to keep up with the work in her fields. But that was before HarvestPlus arrived in her village. Now, pregnant again, Brenda felt energized. And, she said, smiling, so did her baby. “The baby kicks a lot. Right now, I’m feeling good.”

Brenda—seven months pregnant

Brenda

Throughout her pregnancy, Brenda ate the orange sweet potatoes and high-iron beans growing in her fields. She delivered a big boy at home and named him Aron from the Bible. Now, she knew, Aron was benefitting from the essential nutrients in her breastmilk, which, she learned in the community nutrition classes, strengthened his immune system and boosted his development.

Brenda and son Aron—2 months

Brenda

When he could feed himself, Aron grabbed for the orange sweet potatoes. It was his favorite food. Brenda was able to harvest two crops of the sweet potatoes each year; she diversified Aron’s diet with the beans, corns, peanuts and assorted greens that grew in her fields, along with milk and meat from their cows and eggs from the chickens.

Aron—15 months

Brenda

The nutrients also helped his cognitive development. At two, Aron was lively, curious and playful, running to keep up with older cousins and walking to the fields with his parents. Here, he examines a picture of himself.

Aron—2 years old

Learn the Facts

Did You Know?
On dark nights, without power, candles, or kerosene, birth attendants in Uganda deliver babies by the 
dull glow of their cellphones.
Malnutrition is the cause of 
40%
of all under-five deaths in Uganda.
Moms are encouraged to 
bring their own 
sheets, towels, toilet paper, liquid soap, basins of water, a knife to cut the umbilical cord, and suturing materials to their births.
Uganda’s stunted children have 
1.2 fewer years of education
 than healthy children.

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"Malnutrition has not only gone big, it has gone global."

– Roger Thurow
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