Being a mother is hard under the best of circumstances, but there are some women who are handed an unthinkable fate: the loss of a child. Instead of retreating from the world and drowning in their grief, there are mothers who have managed to turn their heartbreak into a mission—to save other children from the terrible misfortunes that befell theirs. Here, we profile three courageous mothers from Argentina who risked their lives to challenge the status quo and change their country for the better.

There was a sad period in Argentina during the 1970s called the Dirty War. During this time of state-sponsored terrorism, thousands of anti-government activists fell victim to officially-sanctioned violence. Thousands of people “disappeared”—meaning they were kidnapped and assassinated, their corpses most often cast into the ocean. It has been estimated that around 30,000 people “disappeared” during the Dirty War.

3 Latina Mothers Who Turned Heartbreak into a Life Mission-Azucena Villaflor

Azucena Villaflor

Azucena Villaflor was one of the founding mothers of the association Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, dedicated to looking for the Disappeared. Her son was kidnapped and presumed assassinated in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1976. His body was never found. After six months of fruitless searches, Villaflor, along with other mothers of missing children, decided to initiate a series of demonstrations to gain publicity for their cause. Because the police had ordered that they could not stop or gather on the main plaza of Buenos Aires, they decided to walk around the plaza in a show of defiance.

Ever since, each Thursday around half past three, the mothers of the disappeared and their supporters walk around the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the Casa Rosada. Although Argentina is now a peaceful country, these mothers and the movement Villaflor helped found are a reminder to never forget the country’s darkest hours and all their lost loved ones. Azucena Villaflor was kidnapped and disappeared in 1977.

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3 Latina Mothers Who Turned Heartbreak into a Life Mission-Susana Trimarco

Susana Trimarco

Susana Trimarco is a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013, in recognition for her fight against human trafficking in Argentina. Yet her life is that of a mother looking for her missing child. Her daughter, Marita Veron, disappeared ten years ago—kidnapped and apparently forced into prostitution.

Susana Trimarco tried to find her daughter by visiting brothels, disguised as a prostitute. She risked her life and endured death threats but in the process, managed to free hundreds of other young women forced into prostitution and slavery.

In 2007, Susana Trimarco founded the Foundation of Maria of the Angeles  in order to rescue kidnapped girls in Argentina. This foundation is a nonprofit organization that rescues and offers free assistance to victims of human trafficking.  Her daughter has never been found, but the investigations are still open.

Bilma Acuña is one of the founding moms of Madres Contra el PACO (Mothers in Fight Against PACO (a drug similar to crack cocaine) of Villa 15 (Hidden City), Buenos Aires. Since 2003, she, along with other mothers, fights against the illicit drug trade in this bustling district.

Acuña is the mother of six children. One of them, David, was assassinated in 2001 for being an eyewitness to a homicide perpetrated by a group of drug traffickers. He was just 15 years old. Since then, Acuña has worked in several organizations, attends national and international congresses and leads movements for the eradication of the sale and consumption of PACO in the poorest districts of Buenos Aires.

Drug addiction in Argentina is a pandemic, especially in the country’s poorest urban areas. It is killing these mothers’ children and completely destroying families. As a result of this first community of mothers in Buenos Aires, many other mothers have formed networks in the provinces of Argentina and even in Chile and Uruguay.

Azucena, Trimarco and Bilma embody the ferocity of a mother’s love, even in the darkest of circumstances and the most insurmountable odds.