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In Niger, personal relationships are key to long-term maternal health

Though it's beneficial to send food and supplies to communities in need, it is also important to understand the value of personal relationships in order to implement effective, long-term solutions.
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A picture taken on October 14, 2013 shows a child suffering from malnutrition eyed by his mother at a hospital in Tillaberi, western Niger. Saumya Dave traveled to Niger with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in 2011 and wrote articles on global women's health. (BOUREIMA HAMA/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's note: This weekend President Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton will convene more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students from around the world at the Clinton Global Initiative University in Phoeniz, Arizona where attendees will work to address global challenges, including health. Saumya Dave will join the group of young leaders. She is a medical student and writer who traveled with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to North and West Africa in 2011 to report on global women's health. As a result of the experience, she founded MoBar, an organization to improve maternal health in the region. 

MOLII, Niger — When I met Miero, I had no idea that she was eight months pregnant.

Unlike the pregnant women I’ve seen in America, Miero’s abdomen was flat and her sharp ribs protruded through her dress. Our conversation was a sharp contrast from the ones I had with women in America. No discussion of prenatal vitamins. No ultrasound dating. No measuring of fundal height. Instead, Miero told me that she hadn’t eaten in one day. Her reason was simple: she gave any available food to her family and counted on having whatever was left.

I was in her village of Molii in Niger because of a trip through Northwest Africa with journalist Nicholas Kristof.

Throughout our journey, we absorbed the stories of many women. I learned about the millet grain, an important food source, and the way women in villages walked to the well every morning to collect water in large buckets.

The women were independent in a way I hadn’t seen in America, occasionally relying on one another if they needed to, but for the most part, embracing all of the responsibilities placed on them. In every community I saw an underlying theme: women were taking care of their families and it was often at the expense of their own well-being.

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