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On the wings of a butterfly: How a creative campaign is bringing hope to relatives of the disappeared in Mexico

    Friday, July 22, 2016 - 11:30

    By Kathy Price, Mexico campaigner at Amnesty International Canada

    They are bright and beautiful, they are eye-catching, and they carry a powerful message – a message of concern, solidarity and enormous caring. 

    Amnesty supporters in communities, big and small, from all across Canada are creating butterfly messages to make visible how they feel about a shocking epidemic of disappearances in Mexico, as well as threats to the safety of family members seeking the return of their loved ones.

    Monarch butterflies unite Mexico and Canada. Their annual life-giving migration across borders makes them the perfect symbol for Canadians to express our support for Mexican families courageously confronting an agonizing, hidden crisis.

    Making a hidden crisis visible

    A staggering number of Mexicans – more than 27,000 to date  have been reported missing, most of them during the current government of President Enrique Peña Nieto. Yet Mexican authorities are failing to investigate, leaving families to do the searching, amidst threats, fear and even the disappearance of two mothers seeking to find their children.

    The most notorious case is that of 43 students from a teacher training college in Guerrero State who disappeared in September 2014 after being taken away by police.

    The unrelenting efforts of their relatives to find the missing students, in the face of authorities who seem intent on covering up the truth about what happened, have moved Canadians young and old.


    Butterflies of support from across Canada

    “Stay strong. We support you!” says the message on a butterfly created during an outdoor festival in Kitchener earlier this month. “You are not forgotten” says another, which also declares “I stand with the families of the disappeared.”

    Amnesty activists on Gabriola Island worked together with their local library to offer library-goers a chance to learn about the crisis of disappearances in Mexico and create a message of concern on a paper butterfly. The butterflies were displayed on the library window before being sent on to Amnesty’s Toronto office for delivery to Mexico.

    In Timmins, the local museum offered long-time Amnesty member Anita Spadafore space where she gathered a dedicated group of young people. They put their hands and hearts together to produce sparkling messages their library also agreed to put on display.

    Students of all ages have joined the campaign with enthusiasm. A high school in Brampton sent a package filled with 300 butterfly messages.

    It has been one of the most uplifting tasks I have had the privilege to take on, in all my years of work at Amnesty, to open the envelopes that continue to arrive, spilling out colourful butterfly messages from schools, colleges and community groups across the country.


    Sending hope to families of the disappeared

    “Please pass on a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone responsible,” said Brenda Rangel (pictured left) when I showed her some of the butterfly messages during a visit to our Toronto office in June.

    Brenda has spent the past seven years courageously knocking on door after door in an effort to press Mexican authorities to investigate and find her brother Hector. He disappeared in 2009 after phoning to tell his family he was on his way to a police station to recover his car.

    “The situation is so hard," Brenda explained. "It tears you apart not to know what has happened to someone you love. The number of people who ‘disappear’ just keeps growing and the government is not responding as it should. That’s why we formed Desaparecidos Justicia (Spanish for Justice for the Disappeared) to help other families in the same situation as mine. It means so much to know we are not alone, that people in Canada are supporting our efforts,” said Brenda, who has received death threats and had her house circled by police in response to her efforts.

    Brenda took a package of butterfly messages home with her to share with the families she works with – a package of inspiring people-to-people solidarity.


    You can add your voice to strengthen this life-giving campaign!

    >> Click here to find instructions on our action page

    Scroll to the bottom at to find butterfly templates you can download, print and personalize with colours, decorations and whatever message you want to add. For inspiration, click here to see a photo album created at a Butterflies for Mexico event in Toronto.

    The butterfly messages we are collecting will be delivered to organizations of families of the disappeared that have come together in states across Mexico in response to the crisis. We will also share photos of the messages with officials in Mexico and in Canada to make visible our concern and our call for action.

    Please share this action with your friends. Organize a community event. Or make butterfly messages at a family gathering. 

    Let your creativity take wing in support of truth, justice and an end to disappearances in Mexico.











    Kathy Price is the Mexico Campaigner at Amnesty International Canada. Follow her on Twitter @KPriceAmnesty