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Wolky x KUYCHI


“It was almost like a calling. I had seen a documentary on Lima’s street children and felt that the time was right to give something back. I planned a trip to Peru and was overwhelmed by the breathtaking scenery and Peru’s impressive history. But what got to me most were the terrible circumstances in which the children in the poor districts lived. Their sad, hopeless situation. When I got home, I decided to go right back and set up my own ­project. I wanted to give these kids with no future a new start in life.

“So I sold my house in Amsterdam and left the Netherlands for Cusco. When I got there I found a suitable site not far from Cusco: a three hectare (seven acre) plot in the Holy Valley. A stunning place with clear water flowing down from the mountains and lush, wild vegetation. With a team of 70 ­unemployed Peruvians I got to work building my complex. And so the Niños del Arco Iris foundation was born. I worked from morning to night seven days a week for three hard and often lonely years. “Of course I sometimes found myself wondering: why on earth am I doing this? I had a comfortable life, a canal-side house, a loving family with two healthy children, an inspiring job in the world of art and architecture. But I had to go to Peru.
That inner calling was stronger than I was. I lived a ­lavish lifestyle for years and felt very strongly that the time was right to give something back. I knew that if I didn’t do it then, I never would. I believe that invitations come along in life that are just right for you at that point in time. This was one of those invitations.”

“The Niños del Arco Iris foundation now provides schools, a day center, training, and medical care. But it all started with building a family. Right from the word go, my plan was to create a ­family situation in Peru. To offer children in need a safe and secure home. Children have a right to be loved, a right to education, and a right to so many things. Many Peruvian children are deprived of those rights. They wander the streets, they are ­mistreated and abused. I find that appalling, and I wanted to do something about it.
“People often ask me: how did you find the ­children? But they found me. I took 18 Peruvian children under my wing, and I have a very special relationship with each and every one of them. Seven of them have flown the nest, but we still keep in close touch. I am their mamita (Spanish for mom – Ed.). It hasn’t always been easy bringing up such a large family. It called for endless patience, ­attention and love. But it was the most beautiful present in the world to see the children blossom. To see them transformed from traumatized to full of life and happy.
“Creating a family was a once-only affair, but we are keeping the other facilities going, of course: basic schooling, vocational training, a day center, medical care, and dental help. We are currently teaching more than 200 children and parents. People from all over the region come to us for ­dental care. Every now and again a team of us heads off into the Andes to give people medical help. It’s an eight to nine-hour trip at an altitude of 5000 meters (16,400 feet). The people in those ­far-flung areas can only survive with our help. It’s often very hard work, but incredibly rewarding.”

“Our foundation has no overheads whatsoever. Everything goes to the Peruvian child. I am very proud of that. Giving something back is our ­mission. Back in the Netherlands we are supported by a team of volunteers, and until 2007 they would all come to Peru to volunteer as well. Now we have thirty Peruvian employees, who are also living a better life because of our project. We believe that it is very important that people are empowered and learn to stand up for their rights. They have to realize that they aren’t victims who have to beg for help. They can make things happen themselves. “In line with our philosophy, everyone who comes to us for an education or medical help has to give something back. Patients give us a carrot or an onion, for example; pupils clean the buildings once a week; students lay electricity cables in schools; and so on. In that way they are also ­giving something back to their own community, and that’s important for the continuation of the project. One day it will have to run without me, so it’s very important for everyone to take responsibility. “These past few years have been tough. In fact, if I’d known beforehand how difficult it would be, I might not have started. Fortunately we can’t ­predict the future, and my belief in Niños del Arco Iris has kept me going all this time. We are just a cog in the wheel, but a very important cog for a whole lot of children. When I see what we have achieved over the past eleven years, I can’t help but feel very privileged. I hope to be able to continue doing my share in Peru for a long time to come.”

More information:
Copy Fleur Baxmeier

You can help Helena van Engelen’s Kuychi Foundation in many ways: with a one-time or regular donation, by fund raising, staying at the project, and much more. Visit for more information on the project and to make a donation.

Journalist Inez van Oord and photographer Mirjam Bleeker spent a month at Niños del Arco Iris. They were accompanied by their friends designer Pieke Bergmans and artist Jet Bergmans. The trip resulted in the wonderful book Mamita, packed with photographs, stories and illustrations. For more information visit