Helena van Engelen
Ask Helena van Engelen (1949) why she left the Netherlands for Peru to set up a project for children, and all she’ll say is: "I got the call. It was time to give something back to life."
The mission she took with her in 2001 to Peru was to restore people’s dignity, she explains. "You can tell when people have lost their dignity. Begging, for example, makes you think: ‘I’m worthless, I’m a nobody, I can’t do anything.’" That applies even more to the enormous numbers of children that have been abused. "I see it immediately when a child walks into the school. It radiates a message of misery: ‘I’m worthless, I’m disposable.’ It’s my mission to give these children their beauty back, so that they can see the beauty in themselves and the world again. When those eyes start shining again, you change from being the giver to the receiver. That’s what makes this work so fulfilling."
The fact that she has persevered for so many years is thanks to all those people who have assisted her with the project – in Peru and in the Netherlands. "It fills me with so much gratitude. Each human being has so much beauty within; the reason we are here in Peru – and all over the world – is to experience that beauty. You don’t discover beauty via your head, but via your heart. The heart is like an elastic band – you can just let it grow."