PONTIAC — Every child, no matter where they live, is a work of art. 

That message was the purpose of a project undertaken by senior student-artists last year at Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy in Pontiac.

Portraits created by last school year's senior student-artists in Notre Dame Prep's International Baccalaureate art program were recently delivered to orphans living in Afghanistan as part of “The Memory Project,” a unique initiative in which art students create portraits for children and teens around the world who have been neglected, orphaned or disadvantaged.

The art was completed and shipped to the children just before the seniors — Brianna Manzor, Eliana Gebara, Natalie Lyijynen, Kevin Cragg, Juliet Jacoby, Riley Cooper, Katie Lee and Marianna Ortiz Luna — graduated in May.

Administrators affiliated with The Memory Project told Notre Dame's art chair Sandy LewAllen that the kids in Afghanistan were thrilled to open their portraits.

Notre Dame Preparatory students hold portraits they created last year of Afghanistan children as part of The Memory Project, an initiative that creates portraits for disadvantaged youths from around the world. (Photos and video courtesy of Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy)

“We're so pleased to let you know that the portraits you created were delivered to the children in Afghanistan, and they absolutely loved them,” a representative from The Memory Project said. “As you can see in the video, the children were so excited to receive your artwork and very touched by your efforts. They fully understood that creating the portraits was a way to show them how much you care about their well-being and their future.”

The charitable nonprofit invites art teachers and their students around the world to create and donate their portraits to youth who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, violence and extreme poverty.

LewAllen has been coordinating this activity with her IB students beginning in 2011, and since then, Notre Dame has shipped portraits to orphans in Peru, Haiti, Ghana, Congo, Mexico, and now Afghanistan.

“This is a beautiful example of students using their gifts to make the world a better place,” LewAllen said.

Administrators from The Memory Project say children in such situations tend to have few personal keepsakes, and project organizers aim to provide them with special memories that capture a piece of their childhood — portable pieces of their personal history. As much as possible, they said The Memory Project also wants to help the children see themselves as "works of art.”

Officials with The Memory Project said they were grateful for the extra time and effort LewAllen and her students put into making the project possible.

“Thank you for helping us build international friendship and solidarity through the arts,” they said. “It is our true privilege to do this work with you, and we very much hope to have that privilege again.”

This article was first published on the website for Notre Dame Preparatory High School and Marist Academy. It is republished with permission.


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