Although Ana Dodson was adopted at age 3 and raised in Colorado, a piece of her heart was left behind in her homeland of Peru. |
Brought to America by her adoptive parents after her birth mother passed away, Ana was blessed with a childhood that so many other orphans can only dream of. Yet even as a young child, the soft Andean songs of her native land pulled at her heartstrings with greater fervency each passing year, and Ana deeply yearned to once again set foot on the land that she remembered only in distant memories.
Her parents recognized the yearning in her heart, but wanted her to be mature enough in age to handle such an adventure, and hence, waited until Ana was 11 years old to take the long-awaited journey. They too wanted her to keep sight of her heritage, and likewise, through their research, they stumbled upon a program called "Peruvian Ties," which helps adopted children visit their birth country, and together, they headed to Cusco.
What Ana found there was strikingly different than what she had nostalgically ached for all those years. She was shocked at the extreme poverty she found, and specifically, touched by the orphanages she visited.
|Dressed in traditional Peruvian wear|
(Image from DoSomething.org)
It was there, at the Hogar de Mercedes de Jesus Molina orphanage in the hills outside the ancient Incan city of Cusco, where she was born--amongst the young girls that in so many ways resembled her own reflection--that she realized that she, herself, could have been one of those orphans "full of smiles and songs eager to greet their visitors (their first ever, in fact)"--yet with hearts yearning for more Peruvian hearts just like her own.
She and her mother Judi had brought the children teddy bears to snuggle with and books to read, but Ana quickly realized they needed so much more.
And so began Ana's next journey. She decided right then and there that she would help these children, and offer them some of the opportunities she had been given coming out of similar circumstances. Ana realized that her own life--blessed with hobbies like horseback riding, snowboarding, and playing golf--was starkly different than that of these girls, who in many cases lacked basics like proper clothing, nutrition, and education.
|(Image from DoSomething.org)|
She started by collecting school supplies to send the children, and establishing pen pals correspondence between her Spanish class and the girls at the orphanage. Soon she progressed into grassroots fundraising--requesting assistance from friends, family, and local entities. In doing so, she established Peruvian Hearts, a nonprofit organization aimed at helping orphans in Peru, primarily focused on the orphan girls she met at the Hogar orphanage. Her goal was to provide them with education, clothing, and food, and most of all, hope for the future.
Today, Peruvian Hearts does all that and more. They have a scholarship program that pays for uniforms, school fees, and supplies for the girls, as well as a collegiate scholarship fund named after Ana's birth mother, Maria, who herself could not read or write.
There is also a library project which sends children's books in Spanish to Peru, and a tutor that comes to the orphanage to help the girls catch up on the work they missed while not in school.
They have a lunch program to feed children that walk several miles to school -- including about 100 children from the surrounding region -- as well as a vitamin project that provides daily multi-vitamins to the children, who were in many cases, previously malnutritioned.
They have even built greenhouses at the orphanage to grow vegetables and have purchased chickens to provide the children with eggs and meat. In fact, prior to a Christmas feast thrown by Peruvian Hearts, the vast majority of the children had never eaten chicken in their lives!
Through donor funding, Peruvian Hearts also purchased a candle making stove for the girls to make their candles to sell to the church to raise extra money.
|Ana in traditional Peruvian wear |
Even some little "luxuries" have been granted--both in the form of toys, and most recently, in the installation of solar water heaters so the children can have hot baths for the first time ever!
Peruvian Hearts is also working to establish partnerships with medical missions to help provide health screenings and treatment.
In 4 years, Peruvian Hearts, operating as a family-run charity, has given the area $100,000 worth of assistance.
All of this is remarkable enough in and of itself. The fact that it is spearheaded by a 15-year-old 10th grader with a true grassroots approach makes it exceptionally impressive. Although Ana describes herself as a shy person by nature, she finds the courage within her own heart to give speaking presentations to schools and clubs about Peruvian Hearts. In general, its mission is primarily spread by word of mouth in schools, with kids taking action throughout the United States in response, forging a network of young heroes.
As if all this weren't enough, Ana also volunteers for the Stop Child Poverty Campaign to help raise awareness of child poverty around the world.
CNN recently documented Ana's work as a young hero and she has also received a number of commendations as well, including the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, the Kids With Heart Award, and the Prudential Spirit of Community Award. Most recently, she is a nominee for the Br!ck Awards, which honor young people making a difference in the world.
Just like her organization's motto, Ana is changing the world "one heart at a time," starting with her own, which now complete, beats louder and more passionately than ever.