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From Breast To Baby … Via A Mother's Milk Bank

India accounts for 20% of the world's infant mortalities, and parents in this male-dominated society often reject newborn daughters. A milk bank in Udaipur helps to prevent the deaths of premature babies and to feed those abandoned at birth.

At Udaipur's milk bank
At Udaipur's milk bank
Jasvinder Sehgal

UDAIPUR — Sonu Nagda is breastfeeding her 8-month-old daughter. She has more than enough milk, so she regularly donates some of it to her local milk bank in the Indian city of Udaipur. "Donating breast milk doesn't cost me anything," Nagda says. "Think of the infants whose mothers have died or the mothers who aren't able to feed their children."

The Divya Mother Milk Bank is run by a local non-profit that also runs an orphanage for abandoned children in Udaipur. Devendra Agrawal, a yoga guru who heads the group, says most of the children are girls. "We decided to educate the people that if you don't like your daughters, gift them to us," he says. "Within no time, hundreds of daughters were left in our orphanage."

Agrawal noticed that many suffered from low immunity before realizing that it was because they weren't receiving mother's milk, the ideal food for the healthy growth and lifelong immunity of an infant.

The bank, which has been running since April 2013, collects 40 liters of breast milk every month. Most, but not all, of the bank's milk is given to premature babies receiving care at the government-run hospital in Udaipur. "During the last two years, after the bank came into existence, almost 2,500 mothers have donated more than 16,000 units of milk to save almost 1,300 infants from untimely death," Agrawal says.

Despite achieving major inroads in the care of newborns, India still accounts for 20% of the world's infant mortalities. Doctors say the main killers in India are infections and low birth weight.

To prevent these deaths, the charity Save the Children says breast milk is the most effective solution, particularly when a baby is breastfed immediately after birth and exclusively for the first six months.

The milk bank follows strict control measures. "We first check the milk for the major three diseases, including HIV, which can be transmitted to the infants," says Manorma Dangi, who works in the milk bank's laboratory. "We also do a health checkup of the donor. She is checked for blood pressure, malaria, TB, jaundice and other diseases. When all these reports are negative, only then do we accept the donation."

Saroj Kumari, 15, is here to get some breastmilk for her aunt, who is unable to produce enough to feed her two-week-old twin babies. "Since coming here, their weight has increased considerably," she says. "Before, they were very small."

Kumari vows to repay the bank for what it has done for her family when she becomes a mother.

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Forced Labor, Forced Exile: The Cuban Professionals Sent Abroad To Work, Never To Return

Noel, a Cuban engineer who had to emigrate to the faraway island of Saint Lucia, tells about the Cuban government's systematic intimidation techniques and coercion of its professionals abroad. He now knows he can never go back to his native island — lest he should never be allowed to leave Cuba again.

Forced Labor, Forced Exile: The Cuban Professionals Sent Abroad To Work, Never To Return

Next stop, Saint Lucia

Laura Rique Valero

Daniela* was just one year old when she last played with her father. In a video her mother recorded, the two can be seen lying on the floor, making each other laugh.

Three years have passed since then. Daniela's sister, Dunia*, was born — but she has never met her father in person, only connecting through video calls. Indeed, between 2019 and 2023, the family changed more than the two little girls could understand.

"Dad, are you here yet? I'm crazy excited to talk to you."

"Dad, I want you to call today and I'm going to send you a kiss."

"Dad, I want you to come for a long time. I want you to call me; call me, dad."

Three voice messages which Daniela has left her father, one after the other, on WhatsApp this Saturday. His image appears on the phone screen, and the two both light up.

The girls can’t explain what their father looks like in real life: how tall or short or thin he is, how he smells or how his voice sounds — the real one, not what comes out of the speaker. Their version of their dad is limited to a rectangular, digital image. There is nothing else, only distance, and problems that their mother may never share with them.

In 2020, Noel*, the girls' father, was offered a two-to-three-year employment contract on a volcanic island in the Caribbean, some 2,000 kilometers from Cuba. The family needed the money. What came next was never in the plans.

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