Face to face with poverty
West Jordan High School students watch the reaction of Bolivian children receiving portraits the students drew of the children. The video was created by The Memory Project. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)
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By Jet Burnham | firstname.lastname@example.org
Students put a real face on poverty as they created personalized portraits of impoverished children living in Bolivia. They worked from snapshots of the children provided by the nonprofit organization, The Memory Project, which delivered the portraits along with donated money to the children.
“We get to interpret what we think their futures could be and what they can become just from seeing one picture of them,” said Amelia Green, a junior, who volunteered for the project to give hope to the children despite their current circumstances.
“The way we see ourselves is a lot different than how other people see us,” she said. “So a picture drawn of us really gives a different view on how we look and who we are.” Green hoped to inspire the boy she drew by adding a busy background made up of various tiny objects to suggest that there are a lot of possibilities in his future.
West Jordan High School students were only told the name and favorite color of the child they were drawing. Many decided to add some of their own personality into the portrait. One student added a dragon on the shoulder of the child. Others included personal elements in the background.
“When they get these, they kind of get to see us, too,” Green said.
Students also wrote a personal letter to the child they had drawn, sharing their interests and encouraging them to dream of a better future.
Dorilyn Loring, a senior, drew her subject with feathers in her hair and dream catchers in the background.
“I used to have a hard time in my life,” Loring wrote to the girl. “But then I made a dream catcher, and it has given me hope for my life in the future. I hope the same for you. Don’t let your dreams fade away.”
Portraits were an advanced skill for the Drawing II students who accepted the assignment. Instructors Robyn Briggs and Angelica Barney taught them the grid drawing method. Gridlines were drawn to transfer a 4-by-6 snapshot to a 9-by-12 portrait.
“Instead of drawing everything at once, they break it down into smaller pieces so each little chunk is drawn separately,” Barney said. “Then they look at it as a whole and revise it and refine their work.”
She was impressed with the quality of the students’ work and how they captured the faces and personalities of the children.
Junior Landon Brown made a small change to the boy in his portrait; he drew him with a smile.
“I know sometimes it is hard to smile and be happy,” Brown wrote in an encouraging letter to the boy. “I think that the secret to happiness is finding reasons to smile.”
A picture of the high school students was sent to Bolivia with the finished portraits and personal letters as gifts to the children, who have poor living conditions. The participation fee and additional donations will be used to improve the children’s lives, said Barney, who was the one who suggested the project to her students.
Students were encouraged to explore different mediums and techniques for the voluntary project. Kirsten Barber used Prismacolors for the first time, and Abril Susunaga experimented with abstract style. Brown applied a photography method— an acetone transfer—to his piece.
In addition to the 42 students who drew a portrait, instructors invited others in the community to be involved with the service project.
Donations were encouraged during a public showcase of the portraits. Money was raised through Chalk the Walk, where West Jordan High students paid for a square of the school’s front walk to draw a chalk art piece. Students also earned money for the project by taking Polaroid pictures at school dances.
“Everybody was able to participate in one way or another,” Barney said. She said service like this can help students forget about their daily problems and focus on others.
“I feel the majority of them really did put their heart and soul into it,” she said. “They knew this was a gift for somebody.”
Barber said knowing her portrait had a purpose inspired her to do her best. She was happy with the finished portrait.
“The pieces I’ve done that have meaning behind them look so much better,” she said.