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December 18, 2012
Lack of food stunts Chad children, damages minds

LOURI, Chad (AP) -- One morning, a little girl called Achta sat in the front row of this village's only school and struggled mightily with the assignment her teacher had given her.

She grasped a piece of chalk in her tiny fingers. Her face tense with concentration, she tried to direct the chalk clockwise across her slate. She'd been asked to draw a circle. What she drew looked more like a lopsided triangle.

After half a dozen tries, her teacher took away her slate and tried to hide his frustration as he wiped it clean with his palm of his hand. He held her miniature hand in his and traced a circle, then a second, then a third. "Like this," he said. "Like an egg. See?"

Drawing a circle is considered a developmental marker. It tests fine motor skills, the use of the small muscles that control the fingers. Children who are developing at a normal rate can trace a circle by age 3, and Achta doesn't look much older.

She is so small that when she sits on her bunk in class, her feet dangle a foot off the ground.

But Achta isn't three. School records show she is 7 years old.

In this village where malnutrition has become chronic, children have simply stopped growing. In the county that includes Louri, 51.9 percent of children are stunted, one of the highest rates in the world, according to a survey published by UNICEF. That's more than half the children in the village.

(13 images)




stunted_chad_01.jpg
Seven-year-old Achta stands in the door of her family's cooking hut, as her mother prepares dinner over a wood fire by the light of a flashlight, in the village of Louri, in the Mao region of Chad on Nov. 1, 2012. A survey conducted in the county where Louri is located found that 51.9 percent of children are stunted, one of the highest rates in the world, according to a summary published by UNICEF. Stunting is the result of having either too few calories, too little variety, or both. The struggle that is on display every day in the village's one-room schoolhouse reveals not only the staggering price that these children are paying, but also the price that it has exacted from Africa. AP / Rebecca Blackwell
stunted_chad_02.jpg
Seven-year-old Achta looks at the blackboard during class in the village of Louri in the Mao region of Chad on Nov. 2, 2012. In this village where malnutrition has become chronic, children have simply stopped growing. AP / Rebecca Blackwell
stunted_chad_03.jpg
Teacher Djobelsou Guidigui Eloi works with a student at the blackboard in Louri village's school hut in the Mao region of Chad on Nov. 2, 2012. Many of the children, unable to read, attempted to pass the lesson by memorizing the sounds and their order on the blackboard. In 2011, 78 boys and girls enrolled in the equivalent of first grade in Chad's school system. Of those children, 42 failed the test to graduate into the next grade, a percentage that almost exactly mirrors the number of children stunted in the county. AP / Rebecca Blackwell
stunted_chad_04.jpg
Teacher Djobelsou Guidigui Eloi, left, scolds a girl unable to read out a lesson on the sound of the letter 'a' in the village of Louri in the Mao region of Chad on Nov. 2, 2012. AP / Rebecca Blackwell
stunted_chad_05.jpg
Seven-year-old Achta, right, and Youssouf, left, look on as Mahamat, center, struggles to copy a circle during a lesson on drawing the letter "a" in the village of Louri in the Mao region of Chad on Nov. 2, 2012. AP / Rebecca Blackwell
stunted_chad_06.jpg
Young students Youssouf, left, and Mahamat, struggle to pay attention during class, in the village of Louri, in the Mao region of Chad on Nov. 2, 2012. AP / Rebecca Blackwell
stunted_chad_07.jpg
Children gather under a sole shade tree as they take a break from class outside their schoolhouse made of reeds in the village of Louri, in the Mao region of Chad on Nov. 2, 2012. AP / Rebecca Blackwell
stunted_chad_08.jpg
A little girl cries as she is weighed as part of a mobile nutrition clinic to examine local children and identify cases of underweight, stunted, or malnourished children, in Michemire, in the Mao region of Chad on Nov. 4, 2012. A survey conducted in the county found that 51.9 percent of children are stunted, one of the highest rates in the world, according to a summary published by UNICEF. Stunting is the result of having either too few calories, too little variety, or both. AP / Rebecca Blackwell
stunted_chad_09.jpg
Health workers measure the height of a boy during a mobile clinic to identify cases of underweight, stunted, or malnourished children, in Michemire, in the Mao region of Chad on Nov. 4, 2012. AP / Rebecca Blackwell
stunted_chad_10.jpg
A girl walks past spices displayed for sale in the market in Mao, Chad on Nov. 6, 2012. AP / Rebecca Blackwell
stunted_chad_11.jpg
A boy watches as women pump water from the village borehole in Louri, in the Mao region of Chad on Nov. 3, 2012. AP / Rebecca Blackwell
stunted_chad_12.jpg
Seven-year-old Achta, second right, plays with Nasruddin, right, Mahamat, second left, and her big brother, in front of her family's one-room house in Louri village, in the Mao region of Chad on Nov. 2, 2012. AP / Rebecca Blackwell
stunted_chad_13.jpg
A woman walks toward a well through clouds of dust raised by cattle in the wadi outside Louri village in the Mao region of Chad on Nov. 2, 2012. AP / Rebecca Blackwell

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