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Home News-Telegram News NEIGHBORS — The Memory Project: SSHS art students create portraits for orphans in Mexico

NEIGHBORS — The Memory Project: SSHS art students create portraits for orphans in Mexico

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Sulphur Springs High School art teacher Philip Dick’s students have been involved in humanitarian projects before, but the latest one is likely the most personal.

“We’ve done several, like making a ceramic bowl for rice,” Dick said during an interview in his bustling classroom. “We heard about that one through the National Art Education Association.”

This year, Dick and some of his students chose to lend their talents to The Memory Project. 

“We require the students to enter two art competitions,” he explained. “We also allow them to submit non-competition pieces where there’s not a prize or award. The Memory Project was one of them.”

According to their website, www.memoryproject.org, “The Memory Project was developed by Ben Schumaker as a graduate student of social work at the University of Wisconsin. 

“In 2003, while volunteering at an orphanage in Guatemala, Ben learned that the kids had few special belongings to represent moments of their childhood. They had very few photos, for example, to serve as memories from their early years. Since Ben had always enjoyed making portraits in school art classes, he had the idea to get art students involved in creating portraits for the kids. 

“The Memory Project was officially born in 2004 and Ben still coordinates it full-time today. To date the project has created nearly 50,000 portraits for kids in 34 countries.”

Dick said his kid
s signed up to do the portraits and then Memory Project paid the $15 fee that covered “shipping of the materials, getting things to our kids and then getting them back to the orphans.”

The children assigned to the SSHS students were from Cuernavaca, Mexico.

“The organization sends a digital picture first, then they follow up with a hard copy,” he explained. “They allow the artists to do anything from a drawing to a painting to a collage.”

The size of the art is limited to 9 inches by 12 inches, because the orphans have “very limited storage space.”

The finished artwork should also be “light enough for kids to hang with a piece of tape. This basically means that the portraits should be done on paper, canvas paper, or loose/cut canvas ... Illustration board is just barely acceptable, but anything thicker or heavier than illustration board should be avoided.”

With those rules in mind, Dick and his student artists set out to create memories for the orphans. When asked to discuss their feelings about their work, they said the following: 

Jennifer Zavala: I really wanted to help these people out, you know. I thought it would be a nice gift for them. I enjoy painting. 

Vinh Nguyn: My parents immigrated from Vietnam when they were small and they didn’t have any possessions. When I had this chance to help kids in orphanages, I thought about my parents. That’s why I wanted to give them a possession. 

Valerie Vanez: Just giving something back. It feels good to give back.

Shade Alley: He’s precious. It was just good to give them something they don’t have. It feels good. He kinda reminds me of my little brother. 

Caroline Burns:?It was a really cool thing. They may not have anything to keep with them. I would definitely do it again. It was rewarding. It took me a week. I was actually ... I wanted to get to know him. They won’t let us be in contact with them. 

Memory Project rules prohibit communication between the artists and the orphans.

“Unfortunately . . . we had to cut out written messages entirely. However, each person who creates a portrait is definitely encouraged to attach a photo of herself or himself on the back, as the kids love to see them.”

Kudos to these student artists for sharing their gifts with someone they’ll never know.






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