It Takes a Global Village
A Heart for the Homeland
Hidden in the mountains, in the shadows of the ancient Incan ruins of Cusco, Peru, are many abandoned children who often go without basic amenities for survival. As an infant, Ana Dodson was adopted from this region. Her American family raised her in a home full of love and anything she could ever need.
Despite growing up in Colorado, far from where she was born, she did not forget her heritage. In 2003, at the age of 11, Ana and mother Judi Dodson took part in a homeland trip to Peru to return to the area where Ana was born.
Acutely aware of her own past as a Peruvian orphan, Ana collected teddy bears and books to give to disadvantaged children. During the trip, she met the children of a Cusco orphanage while distributing goods. Observing their dire circumstances, she realized, "I could have been one of these girls. I'm so lucky to be here."
The children had never had outside visitors. Before leaving, Ana recalls saying goodbye to a little girl named Gloria, who, with tears in her eyes, told Ana, "You'll never forget us, and you'll help us one day." The images and sentiments from her first trip stayed with Ana once she returned to Colorado, and the idea for Peruvian Hearts was born.
Peruvian Hearts is the nonprofit organization Ana created to help the children of Peruvian orphanages. Thus far, the organization is primarily in contact with Hogar de Mercedes de Jesus Molina, an orphanage that houses about 16 girls, ages 1-15. Peruvian Hearts works within the United States to increase awareness about the status of orphans in Peru and to raise money to improve their quality of life.
Peruvian Hearts has essentially become a kids-helping-kids organization, spreading its mission by word of mouth in schools nationwide. Ana makes presentations to clubs and schools, and Peruvian Hearts distributes a regular newsletter. The results have been positive. Children in Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and Wisconsin have helped raise money for Peruvian Hearts. With this money, Peruvian Hearts has purchased necessities and mild luxuries for the children in Cusco, such as vitamins, food, toys, and a tutor to help educate the girls in the orphanage and prepare them for a brighter future.
"Many of these girls are abandoned and abused, but they are so happy to have what they have," Ana says. "They've felt that no one cared about them, and now they know someone cares for them. This kind of attention is all part of the healing process."
Now the forgotten children amidst the Peruvian hills have become part of a greater international family that is providing them with hope and pleasant memories. Last December, Peruvian Hearts treated the children to a Christmas day feast, which included chicken--meat they had never tasted before. The organization also raises money to feed one meal a day to roughly 100 children in greater Anta, the Cusco province where Ana was born.
Because of the organization's success in bringing attention to the needs of the area, many travelers to Cusco contact Peruvian Hearts to find out more about the orphanage. These travelers have taken detours on their journeys to the region to deliver extra bags of goods to the children.
The nuns running the orphanage have reported back to Ana that the steady supply of vitamins and the yield from a chicken coop paid for by Peruvian Hearts has improved the previously malnourished girls' performance in school and increased daily energy levels. In addition, thanks to a stove provided by Peruvian Hearts, the girls make ornate candles and sell them locally, stimulating interaction between the girls and the community while raising extra income for the children.
Ana, now 14 and in the eighth grade, received a 2005 Prudential Spirit of Community Award. As a national honoree, she received a total of $6,000, which she used to start "Maria's Fund." Maria was the name of Ana's birthmother, who did not know how to read or write. The fund supports the general continuing needs of the girls once they outgrow the orphanage, and will be used to further their education and provide greater opportunities for them as they grow older.
Ana is proud of her work and hopes the organization can continue to support the orphans of Peru for years to come. "It means so much to them and to me."
--Ann Blake, Children's Voice Contributing Editor
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