Normally the winter months are focused on one thing – racing. The schedule is punishing and my life is absorbed by ongoing training and preparation. But this month, I decided to take a couple of days out to go deep into the heart of India to find out what life was like for children and their families who are struggling to survive day in, day out because they don’t have enough to eat.
As a sportsman in the public eye, I know I have a role to play in helping to tell the stories of the world’s most vulnerable children and I jumped at the chance to be able to do that again after a visit to Manila with UNICEF, the world’s leading children’s organisation, earlier this year.
Straight after the Grand Prix I was on a tiny plane to a small town called Shivpuri in the state of Madhya Pradesh; only a 50-minute flight away from India’s capital, Delhi, life could not have been more different.
I was to learn that for some children that the devastating effect of hunger can take a hold before they are even born. If their mother doesn’t have enough to eat whilst she is pregnant and is malnourished herself, it can leave her new-born baby dangerously small and fighting for its life.
That is what happened to Nami Bai’s children. The mother of two tiny twins, she didn’t have enough to eat whilst she was carrying them which left her babies severely underweight and in incubators fighting for their lives. “I am frightened for my babies”, she said, but she told me she was also daring to hope a little that they might survive now they were receiving life-saving care at a newborn care unit set up by UNICEF.
Thanks to the care the centre provides, their chance of survival has gone from nearly zero to over 85%.
In the ward there were 12 tiny little incubators with tiny babies in each one. My heart stopped when we walked into the new-born centre and I had to take a step back – it was full of the tiniest babies I have ever seen. I didn’t even know a baby that small would be able to survive, let along continue to cling to life. These infants were no more than the size of my palm and their hands were the size of my finger tips.
Like all mums waiting for news Nami has not yet named her children as superstition dictates she cannot do so until they are home, happy and healthy. The women who use this centre are often the poorest, most vulnerable in Indian society and without the free health care the centre provides, they would have nowhere to take their tiny babies. Each one had their own heartbreaking story of survival.
Afterwards, I couldn’t get the image of those tiny babies out of my mind, especially the two yet unnamed twins side by side in one of the incubators. They are not alone in their struggle – thousands of babies around the world lose their life everyday because they were born dangerously small as their mother didn’t have enough to eat. It shouldn’t be like this.
Like everyone I have seen the criticism about a country like India receiving foreign aid when they can afford to host a Grand Prix. But my visit to the new born care unit has left me in no doubt that partnerships between organisations like UNICEF and the government, really are saving children’s lives, day in, day out.
Next year, UNICEF and others will be calling on the UK government and other world leaders to put an end to child hunger. Please remember the plight of these tiny babies, like I will, and add your support.
No child, no matter where they live in the world should go hungry or lose their life because they or their mum don’t have enough to eat. We all have a role to play in making sure they have the best chance in life and for that we should be proud.
To find out more about UNICEF or to donate to their work, please visit www.unicef.org.uk. Follow Lewis Hamilton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LewisHamilton.
This article first appeared on www.huffingtonpost.co.uk.