Tales from the Road: El Niños Hotel
March 19 -- Our home base in Cuzco is the Niños Hotel, a clean and friendly hacienda about five blocks from the Plaza de Armas.  It's run by a Dutch couple who settled here a few years back.  What's special about the Niños Hotel is the projects it supports.  We toured the two Niños Hotels and "Childrens' Restaurants" this morning.

The whole thing is the dream and realization of Jolanda van den Berg, who settled in Cuzco about seven years ago.  As in many South American cities, there are thousands of children begging and working on the streets here.  On her first visit to Peru, Jolanda had met and talked with many of them, so when she returned in 1996, she was determined to make some constructive changes.

During the first few weeks of her stay in Cuzco, you could find her each day on the Plaza de Armas, talking and playing with the shoeshine boys and the young girls who sold candy. With financial support from family and friends, she was soon living with two street kids, and within another 18 months she and her partner Titus had become mother and father of an adopted family of 12 boys.

"Adoption is difficult in Peru, there's a lot of paperwork," Jolanda told us.  "Your motivation has to be very strong."

In the beginning, she and some friends had started a charitable foundation to raise funds to support her efforts.  A 1997 article in a Dutch women's magazine brought a tremendous response and over 1,000 new donors and sponsors.  In an effort to become more self-sufficient, Jolanda and Titus started the Niños Hotel, our home here in Cuzco, opening in mid 1998.

The hotel was and still is, a big success.  It's highly recommended by the guidebooks, and also by travelers like ourselves.  It's clean, comfortable and friendly.  Not only that, they bake the best bread we've found in Peru!

Within two years, Jolanda and Titus were able to open the first Niños Restaurant nearby, and two years after that, in April 2002, the second Niños Restaurant and second Niños Hotel opened just down the street.  The hotel profits along with continuing donations now help to feed 130 children in each of the restaurants six times a week.

All of this goes on without government funding.  "There are a lot of people who are supporting us, and that's always important," Jolanda told us.

Most of the children are referred by teachers from schools in Cuzco or nearby villages, though some are kids on the streets whose families cannot afford to send them to school.  As well as the hot meal, the children also receive medical and dental care, get a hot shower twice a week, and get help with their homework from teacher volunteers.  At the new hotel, a gymnasium, complete with shoes and uniforms, is the focus of an active sports program.

Even with a new baby of her own, Jolanda seems tireless and committed to her work.  In addition to the first 12 adopted boys, she and Titus have adopted 20 more children, who live with Peruvian foster families.  And, as she pointed out ot us, "It's always a woman who starts these kinds of projects."

Overall, the most important thing the kids receive is care and attention.  The Niños Hotel says it will give us a story to tell.  Each of the  children has their own story.  Almost all have something to do with violence, threat, abuse, being left alone, lies, theft, and an enormous lack of education.

For Jolanda's children this misery has come to an end.  For thousands of others it is still a daily reality.

For more information on the Niños Hotel, check out their web site at:  www.ninoshotel.com

The Ninos Restaurant offers a healthy variety of programming.

In addition to a daily hot lunch, the Ninos Restaurants have an art program.
Artwork, dental hygiene and sports programs are all part of the support offered at the Niños Restaurants.  The two restaurants provide a free lunch to needy children six days a week.
In the kitchen at the Ninos Restaurant
Edith and Lourdes prepare lunch at one of the two Niños Restaurants in Cuzco.  Fresh ingredients and a varied menu are an integral part of the feeding program there. The Niños Restaurants feed 260 children per day.
The Ninos Restaurant is light, spacious and airy.
Unlike many other feeding programs, the facilities here are a "restaurant in miniature", with four chairs to a table, and a vase of flowers on each one.
Ingrid Cordoba is a volunteer with the art program at Hotel Ninos
Ingrid Cordoba is a fine arts student from the university who volunteers as an art instructor with the children.

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