The Memory Project is a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 by Ben Schumaker, who originally volunteered at orphanages in poor countries. With the program, art teachers and students make portraits for children in different areas of the world who have encountered misfortunes such as abuse, neglect, poverty and violence. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has participated in the initiative for the past five years, allowing students to use their creative talents to make a difference in the world.
Schumaker began The Memory Project through an idea given to him while volunteering at an orphanage in Guatemala. A man who used to live in the orphanage told Schumaker that he did not have any personal relics from his childhood, and that Schumaker should develop photos of the children so they can have a memory to keep. From there, the Memory Project started off slowly, but when a story about it was broadcasted on CBS Evening News on August 2, 2010, the project gained popularity.
“Schumaker thought it would be a great idea to pair up these children who had nothing with teen artists abroad to give them a special memento of their life,” art teacher Lauren Rosa said. “It is called ‘The Memory Project’ because we are creating a memory for a lifetime for the children.”
To be apart of the project, Rosa orders photos priced at $15 of children from a countries such as Cambodia, India, Ethiopia, and Colombia off of the company’s website. This year, students are creating portraits for Syrian refugees at a refugee camp on the Syrian border.
According to Rosa, there is a combination of 46 students from all art levels at Douglas that are creating portraits for Syrian refugees. In the beginning, only 22 students participated, but the numbers have grown throughout the years because more students are becoming interested in the cause.
“I enjoy doing this project immensely,” junior Sara Giovanello said. “In the past during the holidays, I didn’t get much because of money problems, so I’m able to relate to what they’re going through. Getting something that special is such an awesome feeling.”
On Oct. 27, NBC 6 Miami News came to MSD to cover the Memory Project and interviewed the students participating.
“When I was interviewed, it was kind of scary, but also I really wanted to do it,” senior Gwyneth Morris said. “I wanted to show how great the Memory Project was.”
On Nov. 1, students were able to see their artwork featured on the news. Showing their portraits on the news was a way for students to show others what the project is about and garner awareness for the poor conditions endured by these refugees.
“They were doing beautiful portraits, and it’s the kind of thing that should be on the news, not this nastiness that is going on in the world,” Rosa said. “People should see people doing good for others.”
After the art students submit their piece, the portraits are sent directly to the country that they were assigned. Once there, The Memory Project staff films the portraits being given directly to the children, so the students are able to see their reaction to their gift.
“You don’t realize what you’re doing until you see it in the end,” Morris said. “The first time I did it there was a picture of them holding it, and after that when you see the video it brings you so much joy knowing that they have that now.”
During the week after winter break, Rosa will send the completed portraits to the refugees on the border of Syria. The students will be able to see the reactions of the youth again, while others will witness it for the first time.
Because of its importance to youth around the world, Rosa plans to continue participating in the Memory Project for years to come.
Learn More about the Memory Project: