Students Connect to Ukrainian Orphans Through Art

This portrait of a Ukrainian child was drawn by junior Lexi Hens.

Motivated by the relentless news of destruction and darkness in Ukraine, students in Campo’s Advanced Art and Honors Art classes decided to open their hearts and share their talents with “The Memory Project” for four weeks in September and October.

The “Memory Project” “is an international program that has high school art students create portraits for [children] around the world,” said art teacher Justin Seligman. The organization first began in 2004 with the intention to provide handmade art to children in orphanages. It has now grown to become a tool in making a kinder world where children see each other regardless of appearance and circumstances. The project was introduced by Seligman last year with the portraits depicting orphans in Nigeria and this year students focused on children affected by the war in Ukraine.

The project came to Seligman through members of the California Watercolor Association during “a field trip to the Hacienda de Las Flores,” Seligman said. The real motivation for this project, however, was for students to find importance within their art. “It’s an opportunity for the students to really make a difference in a child’s life somewhere. A child they don’t know, a stranger…Students consistently report that this is a really rewarding experience,” he said.

Junior Natalie Bove’s experience with the project echoes this sentiment. She said that using her art to “bring joy” to a child “who has probably lost a lot” is “very meaningful.” These portraits, that students worked on during class periods, have a lasting impact on the strangers who receive them. This is what Bove and other students appreciate about the project. The fact that it is art “[people] remember for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Further, the project allows students to make something with a connection to the real world. Junior Lexi Hens said that creating art for a child “who [has] lost their parents, their home, or had their life turned upside down by violence” makes her feel “connected to something larger than [herself].”

For senior Noelle Sliwinski the “Memory Project” was a unique way to improve her art and connect with a stranger. Though it started off as just a required assignment for her advanced art class, it ended up “bettering her art skills” and being “something special [she] could do for someone [she] never met,” she said.

Further, the flexibility of the project makes it even more enjoyable for students. They were able to “work with a lot of different mediums,” said Seligman. “We had students [using] pencil, watercolor, acrylic, oil pastel, and chalk,” he added.

These portraits can be challenging to create because depictions of a specific person require a lot of effort and “[students] want to do well because they know they’re giving it to someone else,” said Seligman. However, what he noticed about the process is that all the work is made worth it in the end. “It’s an opportunity to actually do something of real meaning to someone else in the world… especially children who’ve been affected by the war… it just feels very special to help that group in particular.”