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The first 1,000 days matter most and why Mama Martha is amazing

We all know that it’s important for our kids to eat well, get their vitamins in and lay off the sugary treats. But you might not know just how important those first 1,000 days of a child’s life are when it comes to nutrition. Also: did you know that those 1,000 days kick off the moment you fall pregnant? I didn’t know that.

I’ll tell you who does know: Mama Martha. She runs the most amazing crèche in Gugulethu, and I paid a visit with fellow bloggers Cindy Alfino – oh, she of the pink hair and hilarious Snaps, and The Donfather – who is a daddy blogger extraordinaire and every bit as great a dad and husband as you’d imagine. Oh, and me! Here I am in the library at one of the stops during the day.

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I wish I could have taken you all with me so you could experience just how surreal it is pulling up to Mama Martha’s, whose crèche was provided to her, and is still supported by, the Cipla Foundation as part of their early childhood development Ajuga initiative. This is the road we bumpety-bumped-bumped down to get there. And if you look to the left of the photo, you can see Mama Martha’s beautifully painted crèche made of pods that have been raised off the ground. It’s an explosion of colour in an otherwise, in, well, the middle of nowhere. The closely packed houses of the surrounding township come in different shapes and sizes, but the crèche stands out a mile away.

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Mama Martha came out to meet us and give us a tour. She is such a delight to talk to – so fiercely protective of her kids, and proud to be making a difference. Now walk with me as we step through the security door and fence and cameras that she’s had installed, and look…

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… inside. I know, right? I couldn’t believe my eyes either. It’s a tiny paradise, with painted murals and everything painfully neat and tidy. The playground even has astroturf! Mama Martha is so obviously chuffed to show us around, and I can’t blame her. It’s lovely, and the children are lucky to have found a place here.

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It was naptime as we took a look around, and of course – we had to be respectful and not take any photos of the sleeping children. But I couldn’t resist this snap of their shoes all lined up outside the classroom door. The sense that all the children feel safe here, and are loved and looked after is strong. And there is also such a sense of peace in the tiny facility in Gugulethu, an area that has some of the highest crime stats in the country.

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Back to those critical 1,000 days. It’s obviously something that Mama Martha and the Cipla Foundation are very serious about. While she’s telling us a bit more about the day-to-day of the running of the crèche, I sneak a look inside the kitchen where the food is prepared on-site. Look at this menu; I love that there are photos so even though the kids can’t read they can see what they’re eating.

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Here’s why the first 1,000 days are so important: you’re laying the foundation for a child’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing for the rest of their lives. Malnutrition is a huge problem in areas like Gugulethu, where unemployment and unhealthy living conditions all have an impact on a child’s quality of life. If you can ensure that a child receives enough of the right nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in those first 1,000 days, they’ll have the optimum brain development and physical development. In other words, they’ll get the best start in life. Who knows what a child who has attended a place like Mama Martha’s will go on to achieve? And hopefully give something back to their own community one day.
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The Cipla Foundation is #NotAskingForAnything for themselves, but if you want to donate to some of their projects, like Mama Martha’s incredible crèche and the Smile Foundation, you can do so here.

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