On Sunday, I spent some time with Viviana, learning more about the history of the Center and all the people associated with it. I couldn’t wait to share their amazing stories with you!
Viviana is a gorgeous woman, with a smile so radiant and warm you can soak in it.
She was born into the Peruvian upper class, during a time when the upper classes (descendents of the Spanish Conquistadores) controlled the land — and the people who lived on it. When Viviana got polio, her indigenous caretakers taught her that her lame leg would be her “magic wand,” because people who face extraordinary challenges are believed to also have extraordinary gifts. When Viviana was a teenager, they even began training her as a Shaman.
As a child, Viviana never understood why the indigenous people who helped her family and cared for her weren’t invited to visit their home or eat at their table. As a headstrong teenager, she joined the Peruvian revolution. Her family lost their wealth and a great deal of their land in that revolution, but, says Viviana quietly, “It was never theirs to begin with.”
Viviana studied in northern Peru and then in the US, and earned degrees in anthropology and psychology (she is a transpersonal psychologist). She went on to work with the homeless in the San Franscisco Bay area for 30 years (“Beautiful people. Just beautiful,” she says), and eventually became director of that program. During her time in the US, she met Avishai Pearlson.
Avishai, a dynamic ginger-haired man whose welcoming grin lights up his clear blue eyes, grew up on a kibbutz in Israel. He has a huge, soft heart and a slender frame that belies his deep love of food. Avishai’s passion is organic gardening, nutrition, cooking — and talking to people. Avishai talks to everyone. He has the curiosity of a five-year-old and wants to know everything. He also wants to teach everything he knows to everyone he meets. Viviana told me “I think the Children’s Home is his Kibbutz now,” and when I ask Avishai about that, he laughs heartily. He came from a place with a strong sense of community, joy, and shared work ethic, and recreating that for the children clearly feeds his soul.
Avishai and Viviana share a strong sense of spirituality. Avishai practices Breema and Viviana, in addition to her Shamanic training, is a Kundalini yoga teacher.
They moved to Peru to start a retreat, offering fresh organic foods, yoga, Breema, bodywork, guided meditations, hiking, cooking classes, and other wellness work. They had outstanding reviews on TripAdvisor and were bulding a strong reputation and a solid business.
But that was before Viviana was invited to work with the kids at the Center. Meeting the children changed Viviana and Avishai’s lives forever, and brought her full-circle, into a life of service to the children of the Andean community.
First, Viviana was asked to do some therapy with the kids. In addition to having been orphaned or abandoned, most had been through a variety of abuses and other traumas, including beatings, sexual abuse, witnessing terrible acts of violence, and more. Then the woman who had taken them in off the streets, sheltered them, and given them love and security — their Mama Kia — passed away. The children were orphaned a second time. I never met Mama Kia, so the best way for me to introduce you to her is through this extraordinary video.
The kids, still in the process of healing from their early traumas, went through a period of terrible upheaval during Mama Kia’s illness and after her death. One of the oldest girls, who had an eating disorder, actually starved herself to death during Kia’s illness. There were a succession of caregivers, some excellent, some not so wonderful. Then these kids, who had come to this home with nothing, lost their home and most of their furnishings.
Niños Del Sol
Viviana was asked to take over as Director of the Center, which soon moved to a temporary location in Calca. Viviana’s work has mostly involved gaining the trust of the children, who have, of course, some attachment issues at this point. She has been working on healing the children, teaching them pride in their Incan heritage (hence the new name of the center, Niños Del Sol, which means Children of the Sun) and creating a safe, supportive environment for them.
What I witnessed at the Center was incredible. Behavior problems were almost nonexistent. Older kids help younger kids, and so much smiling, warmth and laughter passes between the kids. Avishai is now working for the center as well, cooking healthy organic meals, taking the kids on long hikes, and sharing his love for organic gardening with them.
Viviana and Avishai closed their retreat center and moved to a smaller home to be near the children. As a couple, they are able to model for the kids a healthy, loving adult relationship between friends and equals.
I can’t talk about the adults at the Center without mentioning John. He is now single-handedly supporting all the children, and visits several times a year. He visited the Center years ago and fell in love with the kids — and he has honored his commitment to care for them ever since. John stayed even during the upheaval after Mama Kia’s death, when the Center lost its other donors (there was a time of great confusion about some of the money that was given while she was alive, and the donors who were hurt by that experience have not returned). John’s commitment to the kids, his ongoing support, and his regular visits have been a tremedous source of stability during the transition. Like Viviana, he chooses not to talk about himself on the website or publicize his astonishing, ongoing act of charity — but I think is story is profoundly inspiring and deserves to be told.
This post has turned out longer than I intended. Thank you for sticking with me this far. I will write one more post, outlining Viviana and Avishai’s beautiful dream for the future of the center…