From her earliest days, Ana Dodson, founder of Peruvian Hearts, knew that she was one of the lucky ones. “I’ve been given so many opportunities,” she said, and then added, “I’ve worked really hard, but I was given chances that others never have.”
Peruvian Hearts is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization based in Golden, Colorado that encourages social, economic, and political change in Peru through the education and empowerment of young women.
In the early 1980s Ana was adopted from Peru into the Evergreen family of Rocco and Judi Dodson. She lived under the care of a nurse for the first four weeks of her life, and then “my mom came down to Peru.” It took a year to finalize the adoption process; her mother remained there with Ana, living in a hotel, until the adoption was official. Her father and brothers (Danny and Noah) also visited in order to get to know their new sister, as well as her culture. “My family has always celebrated my culture. They’ve been supportive of me all the way – 100%.”
Ana had always wanted to go back and visit the country where she was born. So in 2003, at 11 years old, she traveled back to her birthplace through an adoption travel agency. “There were 90 families involved, and I was the only one from Cusco. They suggested that we bring gifts on the trip to leave with the orphanages that we were to visit.”
Ana leaned forward to emphasize her next words. “I love to read,” she said. “I started ‘Book Buddy Bears.’ I went to Evergreen Rotary (of which her father is a member) and told them that I wanted to take Spanish children’s books and teddy bears to the children in the orphanage where I would visit.” She noted how wonderful it was as a child to cuddle up with a teddy bear and a book.
“I took $600 of books and bears and distributed them through this program. Others on this program brought a couple of packs of diapers,” she compares, noting the strong support Evergreen Rotary provided her.
Ana wanted “to visit an orphanage in Cusco, because that’s the area where I was born. When we told the others on the trip, they all wanted to come. The girls at the orphanage were school aged to seventeen years old. I learned that once they turned 18 they had to leave and were on their own.”
During her very brief visit of just several hours, Ana hit it off with a girl she met. As Ana was leaving, the girl said to her, I know that you’ll come back and help us. “When I came home,” said Ana, “I couldn’t stop thinking about those girls. They were malnourished; they didn’t have hot water – or even clean water. They were so grateful that we were there.”
From those thoughts, Peruvian Hearts was born. “We were funding hundreds of kids, and then the government stepped in to help. We realized that our efforts of focusing on small groups really put the focus on whole groups.”
Although Peruvian Hearts was Ana’s inspiration, this effort is a family affair.
“We came up with the name one night around the dinner table. We were all throwing out ideas – I think ‘Peruvian Hearts’ was actually my dad’s idea.” Her father, a lawyer, “handled all of the paperwork” necessary to establish a non-profit organization and work between Peru and the U.S. Ana’s brother, Danny, currently serves as the Executive Director. “He was headed to Wall Street when a hiring freeze delayed him starting a new job. He became the Treasurer of Peruvian Hearts.
“He has a heart of gold,” Ana smiled. “He lived in Peru for three months. He would cry when he saw kids on the street. His heart was affected by the reality of life there. He’s an amazing Executive Director.” Her brother, Noah, lives out of state with his family; but even from a distance, he remains interested in his sister’s inspiration.
“Peruvian Hearts’ goal and focus is to break the cycle of poverty by educating young women. We provide education, mentorship, leadership and self-involvement.” After 13 years of supporting these young women, Ana and the rest of Peruvian Hearts staff recognized that there was more to be done.
Peruvian Hearts Scholars, born in 2011, is a program that identifies outstanding girls, provides mentors, and delivers scholarships for girls to earn extended education in order to break the cycle of poverty.
“We are very cognizant of choosing girls for the program who not only are smart but also compassionate,” Ana explains. “We are looking for someone who says I want to give back to my community. I want to rise above poverty. We’re the only organization in Peru to give scholarships to women for university or other post high school graduate education. We’re focused on schools and families who believe in supporting girls.” Currently, “We have a nice batch of girls who are motivated.”
Ana was quick in her enthusiasm to share a video of two sisters who are Peruvian Heart scholars. In it, her brother Danny, among others, surround the two sisters. Ana explained that one had been a scholar for some time and only through her, her sister Jessica came to be known to Peruvian Hearts.
“Jessica had taken the entrance exam test three times. It costs money to take the exam each time,” Ana explained. “On the fourth time, she passed, but didn’t have the money for books and other costs.” In the video Jessica was handed a wrapped-up package – a gift, her first in such finery with shiny paper and a bright bow. She carefully unwrapped the package while Danny, her sister, and others looked on. At last, with an impatient bit of help from her sister, Jessica opened the box to find documentation that she had been accepted as a Peruvian Heart scholar.
The joy found within that box and on the faces of those around her explained it all. Peruvian Heart scholars know that with the support and encouragement of the organization, their lives and the lives of their families, will be changed for the better.
Through Peruvian Hearts “We give girls the opportunity to ‘Just tell us what they need – we’re not judging. It’s education 101,” Ana says. “We try to discuss real-life situations spiritually, culturally – we cover 360 – covering all aspects of life.”
Ana asks aloud, How hard is to change one’s life? “These girls have suffered trauma, abuse…incredibly difficult situations. We’ve created a family there. We have an apartment for safety reasons or if girls live too far to commute to school. It really is like a family.”
In order to continue to support these young women Peruvian Hearts accepts donations from individuals and organizations. “We participate in the Alternative Christmas Fair each year in November and Danny leads group trips to Peru in order to raise funds. We have not only local support but also international support.”
She is excited and grateful for the individual and foundation support Peruvian Hearts receives but was quick to add, “We’re always looking for more ways to support these girls.”
In addition to spreading the word about the work of Peruvian Hearts, Ana is in her second year as the Spanish teacher and Reading Specialist at Colorado Academy where she was once a student. “I also go to schools and tell students that you don’t have to wait to grow up to accomplish something.”
(To learn more look to: PeruvianHearts.org)