When 11-year-old Ana Dodson returned to her native Peru, she watched barefoot children scavenging through garbage for food. She stepped off a bus nearby. Orphans mobbed her. She gave them teddy bears — and saw herself in their faces.
A well-to-do Colorado family adopted Ana as an infant in 1992, and she moved from a mud-and-tin mountainside shantytown near Cusco to a radically different world: a two-story home in a foothills suburb west of Denver with private school, synagogue, horse-riding and sparkling shopping malls.
Today, four years after meeting those children in Cusco, Ana, now 16, is leading an effort to help them. She began a “Peruvian Hearts” campaign — part of an emerging trend in which U.S. teenagers launch aid projects. Going back to Peru also prompted Ana to track down her biological siblings and father — an unusual accomplishment in international adoptions. U.S. adults adopt about 20,000 children a year from low-income countries, a figure that has tripled since the early 1990s, records show. Children increasingly are visiting their birth countries to explore their roots. But adoption agency officials say few have found and forged relations with biological parents abroad.