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Students around the world create portraits for refugee children as part of ‘Memory Project’

By Ana V. Ibáñez Prieto - Mar 08,2018 - Last updated at Mar 08,2018

Child refugees receive hand painted portraits as part of the Memory Project (Photo by Ana V. Ibáñez Prieto)

ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP — Over 1,000 Syrian refugee children in the camps of Zaatari and Azraq on Tuesday received hand painted portraits as part of the Memory Project — a charitable non-profit organisation that invites art teachers and their students around the world to create and donate portraits to youth facing challenges such as violence, natural disasters, extreme poverty, neglect, and loss of parents.

The portraits aim at helping the children feel valued and important, acting as meaningful pieces of their childhood in the future, according to the Memory Project’s official website. 

For this purpose, the organisation receives photos of children and teens from global charities operating residential homes, schools and care centres based in several countries, later providing art teachers with full-page colour prints to work with their students and create the portraits.

The portraits were hand delivered to the children over the course of two days in partnership with UNICEF Jordan, whose staff toured the schools and Makani centres at the refugee camps along with representatives of the Memory Project. 

 “We are really grateful for the support provided by UNICEF,” Memory Project founder Benjamin Schumaker told The Jordan Times in a recent interview, noting that “we are a very small organisation and we would not have been able to do this without them, and it is very significant for us to play a small part in their work”.

Iman Al Khaldi, librarian at a school for girls at the Zaatari refugee camp, thanked the organisation for “putting a smile on the faces of our students”, expressing that “the reaction of the girls was beautiful, and we thank all students for their artwork”.

For his part, director of the school for boys at the camp Auda Bani Khaled thanked “all the people who collaborated in this project for taking the children out of the environment of war to surround them with an atmosphere of love and forgiveness”.

Elaborating on the origins of the project, Schumaker told The Jordan Times that he decided to start the project back in 2004 after a volunteer experience in a Guatemalan orphanage. 

 “I was only 22 and I did not know what I could do to make a difference in the lives of those children, but then, I had this powerful exchange,” Schumaker expressed, remembering the conversation with a Guatemalan man raised in the orphanage that triggered the project. 

“He saw me taking photos at the orphanage and he said to me: You know, when you go back home, you should send copies of those pictures to the children, because I grew up here and I have never seen a photo of myself as a child — nothing to hold on to,” Schumaker recalled, elaborating on how he realised “the power of portraits to connect youth around the world”.

“I also strive to help young Americans to think about other children in the rest of the world,” he added, pointing out that “for them, this is not just a project they do in class — it is about connection, and inspiring a global thinking”.

In addition, Schumaker highlighted that several portraits delivered to the children came from the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a mass shooting occurred two weeks into February, taking the lives of 17 students and staff members. 

“These portraits are very special for us and it is an honour and a privilege to be delivering them to the Syrian refugees in Jordan,” he expressed, pointing out that “violence affects youth everywhere in the world, and it is essential to raise awareness about it and protect them”.

“It is the first time we deliver portraits to refugee children and we want to focus more on this,” the founder said when asked about the future of the project, expressing hopes to reach the Rohingya children and to expand the number of countries that the portraits come from. 

“Last year we had 20,000 students participating, and the number has increased to 25,000 this time,” he added, noting that “the project grows every year, and we would love to have Jordanian students drawing portraits for other children around the world”.

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The beautiful portraits are a wonderful gift of love to these children--love which certainly blesses the givers as well as receivers. What a lovely tribute to the goodness of humanity in a much needed time! THANK YOU FOR THE INSPIRING STORY!!

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