Healthy Child Healthy World created the Mom On A Mission campaign to celebrate inspiring American parents, dedicated to creating healthier and happier environments for children and families—to shed light on those who put our words into action.

We will be posting an article from one Mom On A Mission periodically. May you be as inspired as we were.

If you would like to nominate a “Mom On A Mission” or vote for one, please visit Healthy Child Healthy World HERE.

The People’s Hero

by Martha Sanchez, Los Angeles, California (Mom On A Mission nominee)

The journey of my life has undeniable shaped my life’s goals and objectives. I was born and raised in a very poor family in Mexico. Although the expectation for women of my generation was to get married and have children, I dreamt of being somebody’s hero. Not a celebrity, but someone consciously dedicated to supporting other people. I dreamt of becoming “the people’s hero,” a person distinguished for her principles, perseverance and self-discipline, like Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi.

My childhood experiences are similar to the thousands of stories of abused and neglected children, victims of the lack of education and economic resources of their parents. Fortunately, growing up in a tough environment hardly destroyed my spirit. Instead, it challenged me to overcome my pain and learn how to break the abusive chain by surpassing my parents’ education: My father had barely finished second grade and my mother the third grade.

When I was eleven years old, my mother was forced to leave Mexico due to economic hardships, leaving behind seven children. I inherited the overwhelming responsibility of raising my six siblings so she could work in the United States. At that time, my first priority was to support my mom in finding the means for us to survive. As I grew up, I learned unpleasant lessons of poverty, sexual abuse, and social isolation.

In 1999, I moved with my own family to South Central Los Angeles, the poorest neighborhood of Los Angeles City.  In 2003, the Air Quality Management District hosted a public meeting at my children’s school to let us know that Palace Plating, chrome-plating company located across the street from my children’s elementary school, was using chemicals identified by the State of California as carcinogens. I never thought that there was something wrong until I began hearing the stories of those living in the community.

Over the next seven years, I recorded information about children suffering from mental retardation, autism, birth defects, neurological damage, and many other symptoms such as asthma, abdominal pain, vomiting, dizziness, vision problems, nose hemorrhaging, and more—the list goes on and on. Six teachers and former school workers died during that time of cancer, and many more are cancer survivors.

After organizing parents, teachers, school employees and community members to get this serious health threat out of my neighborhood, the Los Angeles Superior Court Judge finally approved a landmark settlement that permanently closed Palace Plating last December.

As I fought for the permanent closure of the plating company, I also learned English, obtained my G.E.D, and paved my path to college. I have already finished two Associate Degrees; I’m currently attending my senior year at Cal State Dominguez Hills University and will pursue a Law degree.

These academic efforts are not only to advance my personal knowledge, but also to learn the public policies that prevented us from accelerating the closure of the company. Going to school has provided me with tools to work with multiple partners to transform nearly 12 acres of abandoned, underused and contaminated industrial land into a family-friendly, residential neighborhood where Palace Plating and other companies once stood. In its second phase, this $6.5 million project will provide homes for more than 500 families, who will also have access to health services, affordable housing, job training and local business support around the Exposition Line in South Los Angeles.

My vision is to empower women to obtain social, economic, and political opportunities to improve the quality of life for their families. My goals are to increase access to community colleges and four–year institutions and to provide counseling and legal representation for socioeconomically disadvantaged families. I hope to establish a non-profit organization to provide women with training, counseling and technical support, and develop a political platform to promote the rights of young people and increase funding to support educational programs for youth, women and their families.

Telling a personal story sounds easy in mouth of others, but whenever I share mine, I find it difficult to say “I.” Even the smallest voice counts in our struggle. Mine is only one. A powerful connection with others has helped me achieve my goals. I am a mom on a mission—among many.

Martha Sanchez, an activist and mother of three, mobilized her community to close a toxic manufacturing plant, learned English to attend college and pursue a law degree, and is currently working on an affordable housing project for more than 500 families that will include job training and health care.

If you would like to nominate a “Mom On A Mission” or vote for one, please visit Healthy Child Healthy World HERE.

Healthy Child Healthy World has been a national leader for nearly two decades, igniting a movement of awareness and responsibility. We inform and inspire millions of people to take action and create cleaner, greener, safer environments where children and families can flourish. For more on Healthy Child Healthy World, please visit their WEBSITE.