Student artists enhance orphans' lives

Photo by Chris Barber Pam Lock oversees the Memory Project in her art classroom.

LONDON GROVE -- A bunch of orphans in Haiti got brighter day last spring when they received hand-painted portraits of themselves courtesy of Avon Grove High School.

Those pictures were produced by students in art teacher Pam Lock’s Avon Grove Young Artists’ Society, an elective after-school program that meets on alternate Thursday afternoons.

There are no special requirements to join the society, just the desire to work together for creative projects that benefit the world, the community and the school, Lock said.

For the past two years they have participated in a nationwide initiative called “The Memory Project,” in which students receive the photographs of children in orphanages in underdeveloped countries. They copy those photos artistically in a medium of their choice and send the creations back to the children whose portrait they worked on.

Last winter the members of the society received photos of eight orphans from Haiti.

They took the photos home and made their own impressions of the faces using paints, pencils or mixed media. Lock suggested that they make their pictures as realistic as possible.

“I told them that these portraits may be the only thing these children have from their childhood and (now is not the time) to exercise their artistic license,“ she said.

On the flip side of the painting, the students wrote their own first names and pasted a photo of themselves for the recipients to see. Then they brought them back to school. After sending the finished portraits to the Haitian orphans and waiting for what seemed like a long time, the students got to see through photos how happy the kids were to receive them.

Lock said the whole process was not simple, because it sometimes took months between doing the portraits and getting a response from the recipients.

“It took a long time to get them to the destination because some of the orphans had been adopted and had to be tracked down,” she said.

Nonetheless, the pictures did arrive recently, and they showed little kids with big smiles holding up the portraits.

The Memory Project was started about 10 years ago by a young man named Ben Schumaker, who was volunteering at a Guatemalan orphanage and talked to a man who said he had no tangible memory of his childhood, according to the Memory Project website. From that experience, he created the programs, which now reaches to more than 1,000 high schools. He searches out the orphanages and sends the photos to the high school. The students each donate $15 to facilitate the process, and if there is money left over, Schumaker donates it to the orphanages.

Lock said the artists in her group do much of the portrait work at home, but they get guidance from her in the after-school program.

Her art group did the same project in 2012 with children in Honduras.

In addition to the portrait project, the Young Artists also will embark on an “empty bowl” project and the creation of a mural for the school.

The empty bowl project involves making bowls out of clay, designing them, glazing them, and firing them. They are then placed in a circle around a symbolic item of food and sold off. As the number of bowls becomes smaller, the circle becomes tighter around the food. All the proceeds are sent to the local food bank.

Join the Conversation