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Modeling Compassion Through Art: AOPS and The Memory Project

3 years ago

Parents love taking pictures of their children, whether it’s a big sports game, a family event, or just shots of them being adorable. Thanks to smartphones, our children are used to having thousands of instant portraits — all featuring their biggest moments of joy and achievement.

But for countless children facing extreme challenges around the world, that’s not the case.

“Unlike most children in our community, there are children out there with nothing, not even photos,” says Chris Tamburini, Art Department Chair at Archbishop Wood High School.  “They’ve lost parents. They’ve lost houses. They frequently have no food. On top of that, many children in poor areas have no real records of their childhood.”

So Tamburini sparked a conversation with her children about what they take for granted — and recruited them to make a difference through The Memory Project.

Founded specifically to help disadvantaged children feel important and loved, The Memory Project is a charity that connects struggling children with artistically-inclined volunteers around the world. Working from a photo supplied by project partners, volunteers create beautiful portraits that help these children see and feel they are just as valued as anyone else.

Tamburini brought the project to her class with clear expectations. It was about doing something selfless for other human beings, giving time and creativity to light up someone else’s life.

“When I told my students about The Memory Project, I made it clear there was no extra payoff. They wouldn’t be getting a grade, or extra credit,” Tamburini says. “I told them, ‘You can do it because it’s the right thing to do — or not — it’s your choice.’”

Instantly, though, Tamburini had 17 volunteers — more than she expected — who were ready to help. “I was so surprised, and happy, that so many of my students were willing to give their time and effort to help someone — someone they’ve never met,” she says.

Students primarily worked on their own time to create their portraits. They were free to pursue any medium they desired, as long as the final result was a positive and representative depiction of their assigned child. The subjects — who were all Haitian — would receive their portraits in a single package, and have their reaction recorded on video by local program coordinators.

But there was one small hiccup — the processing costs associated with The Memory Project weren’t covered by any existing budget. So Tamburini’s students decided to raise funds with a bake sale they would personally run. They immediately set to selling baked goods, across classrooms and lunch periods, collecting the money necessary to get their portraits in transit. Soon they were able to send their art to Haiti… and finally see the reactions of the children they had painted, drawn, and sketched.

“We played the reaction video for the whole school, it was very emotional,” says Tamburini between sniffles. The video, was more moving than she anticipated.

Recent Archbishop Wood graduate Taylor Green agrees. “I will always remember the smiles on the children’s faces when they saw the portraits we created. I wanted to create something that showed the light in the child I was painting, to show that hope and light radiating from them. It felt so good to use my talents to make someone else happy.”