Following his heart to Peru

Helena Van Engelen founded The Children of the Rainbow Foundation seven years ago when she decided she wanted to help the impoverished children of Peru. She adopted 17 children herself.

A local Realtor decides to give up the Malibu way of life to help run a children’s school in an impoverished small town in Peru.

By Jacob Margolis / Special to The Malibu Times

He sells houses for a living; homes that cost millions and millions of dollars. He lives in one himself, in one of the most sought-after places to live in Southern California-Malibu. That is, until he decided to give up almost everything and move to a small village in Peru to help run a children’s school there.

Tom Clements, a Trancas resident and popular Sotheby’s Realtor, decided to take a sabbatical from his life here in Malibu after a “heart opening experience.” That experience took place in December last year while traveling through the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru to experience the solstice, and where he met Helena Van Engelen, who runs The Children of the Rainbow Foundation.

Engelen, originally from Holland, created The Children of the Rainbow Foundation seven years ago when she decided she wanted to help the impoverished children of Peru. With her own money, Engelen designed and then hired local Peruvians to help build the school where she and her children would live, and where other children from surrounding areas would come to attend and receive an education.

“She’s one of the most extraordinary beings I’ve ever met, and when I met her, I knew my life would change,” Clements said.

Not wanting to completely abandon his clients and his business, Clements asked his business partner, William Dolan, to take care of them, and he is in touch with Dolan daily.

“I decided that at this point in my life, following my heart was the right thing to do,” he said of his decision to go live in Peru.

Although a bit unnerving at first, it only took Clements a little while to adjust to the major change.

“There is no comparison I am so grateful that somehow I had the courage to do this because it’s opened me up and given me the chance to do things that I otherwise would have never been able to do,” he said.

Located in Urubamba, Peru, the foundation is dedicated to helping the children learn to become more effective members of Peruvian society by educating them in English, information technology and various other subjects. Another main objective of the school is to help the students qualify for work permits, which will allow them to work in professions they have already been educated in, such as industrial, sewing and carpentry. They are also given information on such life subjects as hygiene, as sometimes they lack the basics.

Alongside the four Peruvian teachers hired to teach at the school, there is also a Peruvian doctor and two employed dentists who provide free medical care to the poor from the outlying communities.

With a full-time cook on staff and local organic growers providing the food, the economy is supported and directly benefits from the school being there.

Clements is able to participate in the running of the school, organizing programs, planning days and helping wherever he is needed.

Engelen has also adopted 17 children, who live with her and Clements in their house. These children attend a Peruvian private school rather than the one Engelen runs.

“We all have to understand that when we have beautiful lives, it’s always nice to give life back and to help out the people who don’t have what we have,” Engelen said of her efforts.

The couple begins the day with meditation at 6:30 in the morning followed by coffee from the local store and a meeting to discuss the day’s schedule. Soon, the 200 children who attend the school show up and begin their day’s activities. After a long day’s work and a few meals, students return to their respective households, and Engelen and Clements spend the rest of the evening with Engelen’s children.

Located 9,000 feet above sea level and only miles from Machu Picchu, the school also offers housing to tourists as an alternative to staying in a hotel. For $40 a night, visitors can have hot showers and professionally cooked meals made with fresh ingredients. Similar to donations, the money from the visitors goes directly to the foundation to help run the school.

With family, friends and his business back in the States, Clements plans to travel back and forth between the United States and Peru, although he plans to spend the majority of his time in the latter. Clements is planning to donate twenty-five percent of his realty business income to the foundation.

Tom Clements can be reached at his email address, If interested in donating to the school, the address is: Ninos Del Arco Iris, Care of Helena Van Engelen, Apartado 43, Urubamba, Cusco, Peru.