Inexplicable joy, sleepless nights, fulfilled dreams, well-founded or irrational fears, wide smiles, bitter tears, unexpected rewards, and sacrifices—they all intertwine in the life of a responsible parent in such a way that it is not easy to grasp how difficult and beautiful they can be, all at the same time.

And while the efforts of both parents are unquestionable, special attention is paid to mothers, perhaps because of the special connection they have with their children.

Naveen Barakat was caught on camera by a UNICEF photographer hugging Rasol, her six-year-old daughter. With an understanding smile, she encourages her to go to school, the place she is most afraid of.

Just a few months before, the Barakat family had been living in a block of flats in the Gaza Strip, from which they all had to flee when the area began to be bombed. Within a few hours, all that was left of their house was rubble. They took refuge in a school protected by United Nations troops, but one night, the school building was bombed, and Rasol and her sister, Samar, saw their father die under the rubble. Naveen was also seriously injured, while the girls sustained minor shrapnel wounds.

Overcoming her suffering, Naveen does her best to give the girls some stability. They are crammed along with nine other people into their grandfather’s two-room house, but they are safe. The two girls are being helped by UNICEF psychologists to get over the trauma of what they have experienced. Naveen is always close when they need comfort. “My children have lost everything and need everything that can be offered to them. From now on, I have to be their mother and their father.”

Xiang Yuncui and her granddaughter Tan cannot go unnoticed. Every day, Yuncui carries her granddaughter on her back for more than five kilometres through a mountainous area to take her to school. In rural China, access to education is difficult, mainly due to the long distances that children have to cover. For children with disabilities, such an effort is almost impossible.

Tan suffers from cerebral palsy, which has affected her legs, so she cannot go to school alone. Her father died in a car accident and her mother works to support her family. The only help she can get is from her grandmother.

Regardless of the season, they leave at least two hours early to get to school on time. Her grandmother waits for her to finish classes, then they return home. “Once, my grandma had to run in order to get me to school on time. She fell down and bruised her knees. Yet she tried to hide her bleeding knees from my view at the time.”

The reports in the press about the duo attracted the attention of the municipal authorities, who promised the family that they would pay for the operation that could help Tan to walk. Meanwhile, her grandmother continues to carry Tan on her back, as she has done for the past three years on the long way to school.

Adelina Toncean was only 25 years old when Cristi came into her life. She saw his picture in a newspaper in Constanţa. The article mentioned that the two-year-old boy needed life-saving heart surgery. Adelina, who worked in insurance, had an excellent financial situation. In a way she can’t explain, she knew Cristi would be her boy.

She went to the hospital to inquire about his situation, then made a call to Cluj, where he had also been hospitalized, and found out that his condition could not be cured. He had been in hospitals since he was born, and his mother had only visited him a few times during this period.

Adelina asked a doctor how long Cristi would live, and he advised her to give up, because in two or three years he would die. Shocked by the doctor’s indifference and the child’s condemnation to loneliness, Adelina tried to adopt him. His biological mother refused, so she took him in as a foster child.

Cristi, or Blondie, as she later called him, did not die after two or three years. He got to go to school, and Ade, as he called Adelina, became his best friend. “We looked at each other and hugged each other. He was my friend. I think he gives me the best advice,” Adelina says.

By the summer of 2014, Cristi was 13 years old and had fallen in love for the first time. When he returned from his holidays, however, his condition worsened. He knew the end was near. He died at the end of November, leaving behind a diary and a devastated young woman. Soon Adelina found refuge in rescuing other children. That’s how she met Andrei, just two weeks after Cristi’s death. For Andrei, a heart operation in Italy was not too late. She went with him and took care of him after the surgery. Andrei had also been abandoned in the hospital, so she decided to adopt him. Today Andrei is four years old and is a cheerful and loving boy.

After the success of Andrei’s surgery, Adelina realized the importantance of a timely diagnosis and finding solutions for children with serious problems. She joined associations helping families and abandoned children to quickly detect treatable diseases. She also continues to support abandoned children in hospitals, suffering and rejoicing alongside them.

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Stories like those of Naveen, Yuncui or Adelina attract the attention of the press and reach us more easily. Every day, all over the world, millions of stories remain unknown to the majority. Nonetheless, we each have examples of mothers who show us how much their smiles, constant care, and unconditional love are worth.