A picture is worth a thousand words.
That’s the simple, yet profound idea behind the Memory Project, a nonprofit organization that uses art to inspire global awareness and kindness. Each year, the Memory Project partners with different artists around the world to create portraits for children who have faced hardship, such as violence, war, extreme poverty, and natural disasters. Since its founding in 2004, the organization has delivered over 130,000 portraits to children in 47 different countries.
During the Winter Term, four Trinity-Pawling students partnered with the Memory Project for their Winter Project. Toby Berner ’21, Seong Jun “Sean” Kim ’23, Mitch Lukas ’19, and Zeyu “Sony” Wang ’23 created portraits from photographs of Syrian refugee children. The project combined three disciplines: visual art, language (Arabic), and history/current events.
“The project was much more than an artistic venture,” shared Ramsay Antonio-Barnes, one of the faculty advisors on the Memory Project. “Students were introduced to advanced drawing techniques and honed new skills to create their portraits of the children. They also researched the Syrian conflict to better understand the ongoing refugee crisis that these children and their families are living.”
During their research, the group learned that the children in the photographs speak a specific dialect of Arabic. “It just so happened that one of our current seniors, Huma Bekhiet, speaks that same dialect at home in Egypt,” shared Antonio-Barnes. “I invited Huma into the group to help us with translations. After completing their portraits, the boys wrote messages in Arabic to the children.”
Earlier this month, the finished portraits were successfully delivered to the children in a refugee camp in Syria. “They absolutely loved them!” shared Rose Franz, Outreach Director for the Memory Project, in a letter to the Winter Project group. “The children were so excited to receive your artwork and very touched by your efforts. Thank you for helping us to grow international friendship and kindness through the arts.”
For Berner, Kim, Lukas, and Wang, their experience with the Memory Project was eye-opening. “I learned the importance of simple gifts,” shared Berner. “I tried to imagine Kinan, many miles away in a very different place from safe little Pawling, opening his portrait, and how excited he might have been to see it. It makes me feel good knowing that my hard work made him smile and gave him something to hold onto.”
Every child who receives a portrait through the Memory Project has a different story. The common thread is their courage and resilience through adversity. By creating portraits for the children, Berner, Kim, Lukas, and Wang used their artistic talents to show support and honor the children’s strength. Perhaps most importantly, the project helped to build their sense of empathy and create meaningful, cross-cultural connections.
“The project was a personal experience for the students — one that opened their hearts to the bigger world out there,” Antonio-Barnes concluded. “The willingness to share their talents to spread joy, positivity, and good will so that others feel valued is an experience that the boys can continue to build on. Those feelings will stay with them for years to come.”
by Emma Christiantelli