Mar 15, 2017

2017 Summit Speaker Spotlight: Why Mothers and Children Should Live Bravely in Their First 1,000 Days

by Roger Thurow, Chicago Council for Global Affairs

For a non-fiction storyteller, diversity can be a powerful ally. 

In my three books exploring hunger in the 21st Century – the REAL Hunger Games Trilogy! – I’ve found that a multitude of voices, from different backgrounds and locations, makes for a richer narrative.

The narrative of my newest book, The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children – And the World, is set in four distinct locations: India, Uganda, Guatemala, and Chicago. As I set out to explore the importance of good nutrition during a period of 1,000 days – from the time a mother becomes pregnant to the second birthday of her child – I thought perhaps I could capture the story through the experience of one family. But I soon found that this complex, global story would best be told by an array of characters with diverse experiences in the 1,000 days.

My challenge as a storyteller would be to stitch their perspectives together with a common narrative thread. The 1,000 days would a unifying force, a timeframe shared by all. I would make multiple visits to the families in the four locations throughout the 1,000 days and witness and discuss their experiences. I hoped that as readers came to care about the mothers and children and families in the narrative, they would also come to care about the issues.

Through their diversity emerged a narrative of unity.  I expected to find many differences: language, culture, food, geography.  But I was surprised to discover, through these diverse voices, many more commonalities that bring the world together:

I saw that good nutrition is humanity’s common denominator; no matter the location, or level of income, or degree of the parents’ education, every child needs the same vitamins and minerals for healthy and strong growth. I learned that the most common craving of pregnant women everywhere is for knowledge, especially nutritional knowledge.  I heard mothers and fathers in every setting express this universal ambition for their children: that they receive the best education possible.

Including families in Chicago in the narrative was vital to portray the universality of the 1,000 days – through the experiences of the Chicago mothers, readers see that the issues of nutrition, sanitation, hygiene, security, poverty, knowledge-sharing and parental nurturing are not just important “over there” somewhere.  They are also crucial for the health of our families and societies in the United States.

This diversity of voices over shared experiences helped me understand larger truths about how the impact of poor nutrition and faltering early child development affects us all. How the costs of childhood stunting – both physically and cognitively – ripple across time and place. How a stunted child anywhere becomes a stunted child everywhere.

The diversity reflected in the common narrative shaped an essential observation, expressed in this passage of the book:

“Perhaps the greatest costs of malnutrition and stunting are immeasurable: A poem not written.  A song not sung.  A novel not imagined.  A gadget not invented.  A building not designed.  A mystery not solved.  A horizon not explored.  An idea not formed.  An inspiration not shared.  An innovation not nurtured.  A cure not discovered.  A kindness not done. 

“What might a child have contributed to the world if he or she hadn’t been stunted in the 1,000 days?  A lost chance at greatness for one is a lost chance for all.”

To see Roger’s Innovate Track Workshop, which explores leading-edge approaches to eradicating malnutrition in Guatemala, at the 2017 GlobeMed Summit, please visit

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