The Memory Project: artwork connects students with Bolivian children

Art is a form of communication, of connection, and Orange High School students have experienced this first hand as they create artistic portraits of Bolivian children that will eventually be gifted to the children depict. 

It should be no surprise then to hear that students often delve deeper, spending more time on these projects outside of class – in the end there will be no grade, nor award, but the knowledge that this project is done for the betterment of someone else, that their art can impact another person’s life thousands of miles away in another country. 

“They imagine, ‘What if someone were to do this for me?’,” Orange High School Visual Arts Teacher Rae-Ann Daughtry said. “Their efforts are stronger, and since this is done in their free time, they had to choose to commit to this project, and when they do, I see they have a stronger drive because it is for, it is impacting, someone else.” 

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The Memory Project is a nonprofit organization that began in 2004, and partners with teachers and their students “to create portraits for youth around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, violence, and extreme poverty,” according to the organization’s website. 

Each art student receives a photograph of the child, their name, age, and their favorite color. 

The portrait’s goal is to make the children who are receiving the artwork of themselves feel valued and important, to know that another person around the world has thought about them, and cared about them and their well-being enough to create a personal portrait and fashion it to appeal to that particular child. 

These portraits “act as meaningful pieces of personal history in the future, and for the art students, and is an opportunity to creatively practice kindness and global awareness.” 

Large full color print and digital photographs are collected from global charities operating residential homes, schools and care centers in a number of countries every year, and once the photographs are received and turned into a work of art, they are hand-delivered by the organization, with the students seeing a video of the children receiving the artwork in that area within the country. 

“The kids here are really touched by what they see in videos,” Daughtry said. “They say, ‘Look, we made a difference through our art, that art is still cared for and still relevant.’” 

The created artwork mediums are anything from a drawn portrait, a painting, or even digital artwork, and though they have to stick with a more realistic style, they are able to create the work with colors and design that can appeal to that child. 

Last year, students created portraits of children from Brazil, and since, the project has gained popularity and more Orange students, 11 to be exact, participating this year, adding to the more than 90,000 portraits created for children in over 42 countries since the organization’s beginning. 

As the students spend time thinking about the lives of the children in the photographs they received, they were also are given a summary about Bolivia that highlights the fact that though many children are doing well, some kids are facing considerable challenges, and each photograph holds a child with a different story. 

“In particular, to imagine their stories, it is first important to know that Bolivia is the financially poorest country in South America,” the summary read. “Such poverty leads to regrettable trends for many women and children, such as inadequate nutrition, limited health care, substance abuse, and domestic violence. 

“Bolivia’s weak economy also creates a vacuum for narcotics, as many people can make far more money through the drug trade than they can through traditional employment. 

“The children you see in these photos all live in a particularly challenged area on the outskirts of a city, where many families live in one room homes with dirt floors and walls of sheet metal.” 

With each photograph, it affects the worldview of the art student, and in turn, affects the child who receives a piece of art – something very personal to call their own, as many of these children cannot claim many, if any, items of their own. 

“A lot of times the students feel as they don’t make a difference,” Daughtry said. “But they do – they really do, and they need to be able to see and understand that. 

“But this is what this project does, it says if you’re an artist, it doesn’t mean you’re just creating pretty pictures – you can make a difference in someone’s life,” she continued. “And by doing this, they actually recognize that they are.” 

The artwork will be completed within the last week of March and submitted by April 1.