Her daughter suddenly vanished. Now this woman and 4 others want answers.

Want to see the definition of courage? Take a look at these five women.

They've endured any parent's worst nightmare: Their children disappeared one day and haven't been found.


That's a reality that some families have to deal with in Mexico, where an estimated 25,000 people have gone missing since 2006, when the drug war began to escalate.

There's the violence and drug trafficking. But there's also an absence of rule of law. You can't go to the police or courts for answers when corruption is rampant. And the Mexican government isn't doing enough to restore trust in law enforcement.

Yet these mothers aren't losing hope. They're demanding justice and taking matters into their own hands.

Here are their powerful stories:

Photo by Vladimir Cortés, used with permission.

The odds seem impossible, but she won't give up.

Every Saturday, Silvia Ortiz carries a shovel and roves the desert looking for her daughter's remains.

It's been over a decade since Fanny — who was then 16 — disappeared after playing a basketball game in Torreón, a city in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila. After the game, Fanny stopped by a friend's house to pick up her Discman and planned to go home. She vanished on her way back.

Silvia now leads VIDA, a group of 56 families that comb the Coahuila desert every weekend in temperatures as high as 104 degrees, waging a perpetual search for their loved ones.

Since last January, they have found dozens of small bones and charred human remains.

"The hardest thing is the time that passes. You go to the authorities to check your case and they have nothing. You have to check photos of [unidentified] corpses, and now search for human remains like we do. It's really hard, but it has to be done."

Photo by Vladimir Cortés, used with permission.

She'll risk her own life to find her daughter.

“I'll be home soon. Bye mom, I mega-love you."

Those were the last words that Araceli Jiménez heard from her 21-year-old daughter Fernanda on Sept. 7, 2012. A few minutes after that last call, Fernanda was dragged out of a bar by four men in Orizaba, a city in the violence-plagued coastal state of Veracruz.

According to state authorities, her disappearance was only related to one thing. With her long hair, hazel eyes, golden brown skin, and cute smile, she likely caught the eye of a narco looking for a girlfriend.

Araceli can't even search for her daughter without worrying about threats and intimidation.

She has received menacing calls and has been harassed and profiled. Now, she can't leave home without a security escort.

"To think that she is suffering gives me strength to continue fighting. The impotence of not knowing is frustrating and it's killing me little by little. My challenge is to keep myself alive and keep fighting against a corrupt government and a society that doesn't take these cases seriously. I'll keep going because the fight for a son or a daughter never ends and a mother never forgets."

Photo by Vladimir Cortés, used with permission.

Someone has to speak up — or nothing will change.

When María Elena Herrera met with then-President Felipe Calderón in 2011, she didn't hold back her emotions.

“We are not collateral damage," she said, referencing the president's war on drug traffickers, which had taken tens of thousands of lives since 2006. “We have names and a family." She burst into tears, and the president gave her a hug.

María Elena is still waiting for the return of her four sons.

Jesús and Raúl disappeared in Guerrero in 2008, and Gustavo and Luis Armando vanished two years later in Poza Rica, Veracruz, after they went to the city to search for work.

Now, Doña Mary — as others in this struggle fondly call her — has become one of the most outspoken leaders of the movement for justice.

Photo courtesy of Norma Ledezma, used with permission.

She knows her daughter wasn't the only one.

Norma Ledezma remembers the last time she saw her then-16-year-old daughter Paloma on March 2, 2002.

Paloma had left their house in the northern city of Chihuahua on a Saturday afternoon to go to a computer class.

Three weeks later, Paloma's body was found in the outskirts of the city.

Now, Norma battles against gender violence as director of Justice for Our Daughters, an organization formed by the families of murdered and disappeared girls and women in Chihuahua.

Paloma wasn't alone. Justice for Our Daughters found that 52 women were murdered in Chihuahua that year, part of a grim trend of femicides that also plagued the border city of Juárez.

Photo courtesy of Mirna Medina, used with permission.

She finds strength in the quest for justice.

Sinaloa is the home state of the world's most wanted drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo" Guzmán, a ruthless kingpin who recently escaped prison. It's also a place that bears the scars of the drug war.

For people like Mirna Medina, that means a missing child: her 21-year-old son Roberto.

On July 20, 2014, he was at a gas station selling discs and USB drives with pirated movies when a black van arrived. Roberto got in the van and never returned home.

Since then, Mirna has become one of “Las Rastreadoras," or “The Trackers." She joins dozens of other women who roam agricultural fields in northern Sinaloa searching for loose dirt, disturbed soil, rotten clothes, or any other sign indicating a person has been buried there. They have found 26 bodies so far.

"I thought I was so far away from this violence; I thought this was never going to happen to me. The group and what I've been doing have given me strength, but in the beginning the hardest was to accept that Roberto wasn't here. Then, finding the graves and the bodies, decomposed bodies. I couldn't believe I was going through this. It's really hard to see that Roberto is not here and see, that like me, many mothers — thousands of mothers — are going through this."

These women have faced immense pain. But they're standing strong for a better future.

Once a person disappears, they run the risk of being forgotten, especially in a country where the government isn't devoted to solving the cases. These mothers are not only making sure their children are remembered, they're raising awareness about others who could suffer the same fate.

Let's help them tell their stories and work toward a time when this stops happening.

Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
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With the COVID-19 pandemic upending her community, Brooklyn-based singer Tiffany Obi turned to healing those who had lost loved ones the way she knew best — through music.

Obi quickly ran into one glaring issue as she began performing solo at memorials. Many of the venues where she performed didn't have the proper equipment for her to play a recorded song to accompany her singing. Often called on to perform the day before a service, Obi couldn't find any pianists to play with her on such short notice.

As she looked at the empty piano at a recent performance, Obi's had a revelation.

"Music just makes everything better," Obi said. "If there was an app to bring musicians together on short notice, we could bring so much joy to the people at those memorials."

Using the coding skills she gained at Pursuit — a rigorous, four-year intensive program that trains adults from underserved backgrounds and no prior experience in programming — Obi turned this market gap into the very first app she created.

She worked alongside four other Pursuit Fellows to build In Tune, an app that connects musicians in close proximity to foster opportunities for collaboration.

When she learned about and applied to Pursuit, Obi was eager to be a part of Pursuit's vision to empower their Fellows to build successful careers in tech. Pursuit's Fellows are representative of the community they want to build: 50% women, 70% Black or Latinx, 40% immigrant, 60% non-Bachelor's degree holders, and more than 50% are public assistance recipients.

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Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Upworthy article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled that so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

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Racist jokes are one of the more frustrating manifestations of racism. Jokes in general are meant to be a shared experience, a connection over a mutual sense of humor, a rush of feel-good chemicals that bond us to those around us through laughter.

So when you mix jokes with racism, the result is that racism becomes something light and fun, as opposed to the horrendous bane that it really is.

The harm done with racist humor isn't just the emotional hurt they can cause. When a group of white people shares jokes at the expense of a marginalized or oppressed racial group, the power of white supremacy is actually reinforced—not only because of the "punching down" nature of such humor, but because of the group dynamics that work in favor of maintaining the status quo.

British author and motivational speaker Paul Scanlon shared a story about interrupting a racist joke at a table of white people at an event in the U.S, and the lessons he drew from it illustrate this idea beautifully. Watch:

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With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

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