• Ralph Thurman

Peruvian Hearts: Working to Empower Young Women in Peru

Gender inequality is a major issue in Peru, as Peruvian women are statistically much more likely to be unemployed and live in poverty. This lack of access to steady work is often the result of a lack of access to education during childhood. This disparity in education is especially prominent in rural areas, as Project Peru estimates that 33.7% of rural women are illiterate, compared to just 10.9% of men.

While this inequality is troubling, an organization called Peruvian Hearts has been working to eradicate poverty by providing Peruvian girls with educational scholarships that allow them to pursue fulfilling careers. Let’s take a closer look at the history of this organization and how they are helping to empower Peruvian girls from impoverished areas.

The Founding of Peruvian Hearts

The story of Peruvian Hearts began in 2003 with the idea of an 11-year-old girl named Ana Dodson. An American couple adopted Ana as a baby in 1992 from her place of birth - Cusco, Peru. Eleven years later, Ana wanted to visit her birthplace to better understand her Peruvian roots.

Ana and her mother traveled to Peru for the first time in the summer of 2003. During this trip, they visited a small orphanage on the outskirts of Cuzco. This experience had a profound impact on Ana, as she saw herself in the kids who lived at the orphanage. As she saw it, she easily could have ended up there herself if she had not been adopted. The visit was so powerful that Ana decided to take heroic action by starting an official 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit at just 11 years old, calling it Peruvian Hearts.

Ana has since received international accolades for her inspirational work. In 2007, she was honored as a CNN Hero and one year later, People Magazine named her as one of their “Heroes Among Us.” At age 17, she spoke at the UN Headquarters during their 2009 International Day of Peace.

About the Peruvian Hearts Scholar Program

The PH Scholars program provides Peruvian girls from economically challenged areas with educational scholarships for universities, along with psychosocial support systems. The program is designed to give girls from the Cuzco region of Peru the knowledge, tools, and self-confidence to make a meaningful impact on the world. The scholarships are available for public and private universities in both Peru and Colorado, where founder Ana Dodson grew up.

The organization offers two types of scholarship awards:


  • Empower Sponsorship - This $3,500 scholarship provides one PH scholar with a full year of college or university tuition and also covers all other educational expenses, including books, supplies, registration fees, and uniforms.

  • Dream Sponsorship - With a value of $7,000, the Dream Sponsorship covers all of the university or college expenses offered in the Empower Sponsorship, as well as all living expenses - including rent, food, health care, and transportation costs.

How Peruvian Hearts Supports Scholars Outside of the Classroom

Peruvian Hearts takes a three-pronged approach to provide support for their scholars:

  • Psychosocial support - Psychologists work directly with all scholars to help boost self-esteem, overcome obstacles, and learn leadership skills.

  • Mentorship - Each scholar has the opportunity to learn from the program’s director and academic advisor, In addition, many scholars have connected with mentors based in the US and Peru.

  • Healthcare access - All scholars are provided with regular medical checkups and exams. The NGO also covers all medical expenses that come up during the scholar’s time with the program.


What Are the Requirements For Peruvian Hearts Scholars?

Peru’s Cuzco region is full of intelligent, promising young girls. However, Peruvian Hearts does not have the resources to provide scholarships to all of them. The organization has a selection process to find girls with the right character who demonstrate academic excellence and economic need.

Girls who are interested begin by taking a psychological exam and aptitude test. The organization looks for girls who possess strong character, empathy for other people, the potential to develop confidence and leadership skills, and a strong academic record. They also come from families who live in poverty.

A Peruvian Hearts Scholar Success Story

Since its founding nearly 20 years ago, Peruvian Hearts has helped countless girls rise out of poverty through education.

In their most recent quarterly report, Peruvian Hearts highlighted the accomplishments of scholar Gloria, who recently graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, with a bachelor’s degree in geological engineering. Gloria is the first member of her family to attend and graduate from college. She did so with summa cum laude honors and was a speaker at the commencement ceremony for her graduating class.

As she enters the working world, Gloria plans to become a summer intern for an international platinum mining company called Sibanye Stillwater, which is based in Montana. She is open to jobs in both Peru and the United States, but hopes to return to her home country eventually to help improve the lives of her mother and three sisters—two of whom have their own plans to attend college soon.

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