Students send portraits to refugee children

Aaron Bapst, a student at Northwest High School, completes his Memory Project portrait for Syrian refugee children.

NEW BOSTON, Ohio (Nov. 28, 2016) — Local high school students have created portraits of Syrian refugee children as part of a national art program called “The Memory Project.”

Ben Schumaker of Madison, Wisconsin, initiated The Memory Project in the fall of 2004. Inspired by his experiences in the orphanages of Guatemala, his goal is to provide orphaned children with “tangible items that will contribute to their sense of identity and personal self-worth.” In addition, these portraits connect American students with children from other countries in a meaningful exchange of friendship.

Art students, and sometimes their teachers, create original portraits for children who have been abandoned, abused or neglected in developing countries. The students receive photographs of the children which they use to create the portraits. Once finished, the portraits are delivered to the children. Video will be taken of the children receiving their portraits, and posted online for local students to see.

To date there have been over 90,000 portraits created for children in 42 countries through the Memory Project. Over the past 10 years, local students have created 236 portraits for children in 10 different countries including Guatemala, Burma, Uganda, Indonesia, Ecuador, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Madagascar.

This year students and teachers created 36 portraits of children living in orphanages in Syria.

“The Syrian people have suffered greatly during the past five years of their country’s civil war, which has led to the largest and most complex humanitarian crisis in the world. A quarter million killed, 1.5 million injured, 4.5 million refugees, and many millions more displaced or isolated from help. Many Syrians with enough money to risk the journey to Europe have taken it, while others have only made it far enough to settle in the vast refugee camps on Syria’s border,” Schumaker said in his letter to students. “For these children, receiving the portraits you create will be a very special, fun, and meaningful event – not only adding color to the monotony of the camp, but also helping to show that people far away care about their well-being.”

Local high schools participating this year are Clay, Oak Hill, Valley, Notre Dame, Green, West, Portsmouth, Northwest, South Webster, Sciotoville, Wheelersburg, and Minford. The South Central Ohio Educational Service Center Gifted Service Coordinator, Sharee Price, directs the project.

“I’m always excited to see what the students have created and impressed by the amazing quality of some of the portraits,” Price said. “This project is especially important because the students are giving back to the world through their artistic talents and I think it’s very meaningful to them as well as to the children who receive the artwork.”

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