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Local art students create portraits for refugees
Local art students create portraits for refugees
Local high school students have created portraits of Syrian refugee children as part of a national art program called “The Memory Project.”
The South Central Ohio Educational Service Center Gifted Service Coordinator, Sharee Price, directs the project.

“I’m always impressed by the overall quality of the portraits our students create,” Price said. “This project has special meaning because the students are giving back to the world through their artistic talents. The project has a significant impact on the students who create the artwork as well as those who receive it. Over the years, many students have told me that doing this project was one of their own favorite memories and that they felt a connection to the child for whom they were making the portrait.”

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 100,000 portraits created for children in 43 countries through the Memory Project. Over the past 11 years, local students have created 264 portraits for children in 10 different countries including Guatemala, Burma, Uganda, Indonesia, Ecuador, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Madagascar and Syria. This year students are again creating portraits for children in Syria.

"We've been fortunate to have art students involved in our project through SCOESC for many years, and I think the portraits they are currently creating are some of the very most meaningful,” Shoemaker said. “The Syrian war has caused the largest humanitarian crisis of our time, and it's very moving to me that these young artists can use their talents to create such heartfelt gifts for children who have lost so much.  They don't have anything like this in their simple dwellings in the refugee camp, so these gifts will really be quite significant for both the children and their families."

Local high schools participating this year are Clay, Oak Hill, Valley, Notre Dame, West, Portsmouth, New Boston, Northwest, South Webster, Sciotoville, Wheelersburg, and Minford.

“The Memory Project has taught me the impact art can have, and what it may represent for people like Huseen, whom I did my portrait of,” said Gabby Deacon, of Wheelersburg High School. “If something as simple as a drawing can make someone’s life the smallest bit better, why not go the extra mile to create it? With my knowledge of this, I hope to continue to impact both other people and myself through art.”

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