Supporting girls’ education is one of the most powerful poverty-fighting strategies around. Young women and girls are changing the world, here in the US and around the world.
Here’s the story of one amazing young woman, who, at age 11, started a nonprofit organization to help girls in Peru. Peruvian Hearts supports all the girls who live in one hogar (orphanage) in Cusco, Peru with education, nutrition, and leadership training, and has begun to support young women on the next step in their education by making it possible for them to attend college.
Ana’s leadership and vision is changing lives for hundreds of young girls in Peru. Ana – now a college student – took some time to talk with me about her awesome work through Peruvian Hearts, and shared a few tips for parents who want to help foster a spirit of philanthropy and giving back in their own families.
Q: Tell me how Peruvian Hearts got started.
When I was 11, my mom surprised me with a homeland trip with a group of other adopted children from Peru with a group called Peruvian Ties. The director of the program said it would help the children in the orphanages they’d be seeing if they brought something down to Peru…. So, I decided to create a project called Book Buddy Bears, because I loved reading, and I proposed it to my dad’s Rotary Club. The Rotary Club gave $700 to collect books and teddy bears.
We went down to Peru, lugging huge duffel bags full of books and bears. We went to an orphanage in Cusco, and Edwin Gonzales (now the director of Peruvian Hearts in Peru) connected us with the hogar (orphanage) that we currently support. We were the first visitors, and the kids there felt really forgotten…. I realized that the kids needed so much more than books and teddy bears. They were malnourished, wearing shoes made from tire rubber. One girl there who showed me around the orphanage came over, as I was leaving, and said, “Ana, I know that one day you are going to help us, and you will never forget us.” That really struck hard…..
I couldn’t stop thinking about the girls and realized I could’ve been one of them – malnourished, worried about where my next meal would come from. Instead I have an incredibly privileged life with an amazing family and food every night and warm clothing.
In December 2003, I convinced my parents to help me start Peruvian Hearts. The Rotary Club’s support also gave me the ability to believe I could make a difference in the lives of the girls and have the courage to start Peruvian Hearts.
What’s your impact to date – what are you most proud of?
We started out very small. We asked the nuns who run the orphanage what they needed most, and they said vitamins. We started sending money for vitamins. As Peruvian Hearts grew and more people found out about it, we were able to support all the girls’ fundamental needs – food, clothing, schooling. Now we send them all to private school – right now about 27 school-aged girls live at the hogar. And we now feed children outside of the orphanage (over 500) breakfast, lunch, and vitamin supplements daily.
I fully believe that girls are the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. We have finally gotten to the point where we have the financial resources and ability, and girls are ready to go on to college…
With the Peruvian Promise program, a very rigorous program for girls with leadership potential who want to give back, we give these girls the resources, a full ride, to attend college. We now have seven girls attending college. They work so hard, and we want to give them the resources and skills to change their lives, their communities, their country. They’ve had to overcome so many obstacles. These girls are really living their dreams. They want to be obstetricians and lawyers, they are amazing girls.
How did your parents support your work with Peruvian Hearts?
I’ve always seen my parents give back to nonprofits, ever since I was little. My world has really consisted of seeing my parents give their time, energy, and resources, and that made me realize that I could do something as well, even though I was 11. Even though my parents were nervous about me wanting to start a nonprofit, they could see how much Peru and these young girls had affected me. They saw how devoted I was, and they decided to put their trust in me and say, “We’re going to help you and support this dream of yours.” It’s a family project. My brother Danny is the Executive Director. My mom, dad, and I are all on the board of directors.
What advice would you give to parents about helping their kids give back?
Actions speak louder than words. You can’t just tell your children about doing good in the world – you have to show them. Be a role model for your children as my parents were for me. As a family you can go out and donate time in a soup kitchen, or help your neighbor clean up the yard. It starts with parents demonstrating they are going to make the world a better place. It doesn’t have to be on a big scale. There’s a movement where you pay for someone else’s coffee in the Starbucks line, and these small acts of kindness really do add up. That’s one way parents can foster philanthropic spirit.
Another way – at big holidays, you can… integrate philanthropic ideas into your major holidays and talk to kids about philanthropy for Christmas, Hanukkah, or birthdays. Some of it has become about how many presents you can get. In my house, every couple of birthdays, we’d ask friends and families to bring presents for other kids who don’t have birthday presents. I really believe that you shouldn’t shield your child from the reality of other children’s situations. There are kids who don’t have their fundamental needs met. You can go out and donate your time as a family to remind kids the holidays are about giving to others. There are kids that I work with who’ve never received presents – I’ve met 50-year-old women in Peru who’ve never received a birthday present before. You can talk to your children at a young age, in age-appropriate ways, to help them realize that poverty is all around us.
What’s next for Peruvian Hearts?
Right now we’re really just hoping to continue to grow the Peruvian Promise program. We have several more girls who are just about to start school. There will be 8 girls studying to take a test to get into university, and we’re trying to get them ready. We’re focused on getting the youngest kids involved in Peruvian Promise, so we can instill leadership skills and empower the youngest girls. And we’re giving lots of support to the girls who are just about to enter college, and having the older girls be mentors for the younger girls, so they can see that pathway.
To learn more about the ten years of amazing work by Peruvian Hearts and watch what they’ll do next, visit their website.
To read about a visit by Babble staff to another part of Peru, and the healing power of the arts, check out this post.