From a humble soup kitchen started by a couple from the Netherlands in 1991 in Cusco, Peru, the HoPe Foundation (Stichting HoPe in Dutch) has grown into one of the most sustainable, efficient NGOs (non-governmental agency) I have ever seen.

A few years ago, while Jennifer and I were working on photo projects in Peru, we learned of a foundation that built schools and helped start community projects among the Quechua people of the Peruvian Andes. Descendants of the Inca, they live above 12,000 feet (3,000 meters) where only they, llamas and potatoes thrive. Walter and his original partner saw the need for schools for the mountain-dwelling Quechua, who often migrated to Cusco looking for work. With no skills and no education, they eventually lived in slums, begging for a living or posing for pictures for tourists (nearly the same thing).

From the start in 1997, the foundation insisted that each village take part in their school’s construction, doing most of the labor. The foundation would pay for the materials, then the teacher’s salaries for one year and then the village was responsible for their salaries. The demand for the solid, efficient buildings was overwhelming. Today, they have built more than 150 schools. The curriculum includes history, math, science and current events. More importantly, the classes are taught in the native language and in Spanish. A little English is thrown in to broaden the student’s learning experience.Read More