Dunn students create portraits for Colombian children

Star Report

Imagine growing up without a photo of yourself, without any affirmation that someone has truly looked at your face. This is the case for many children at a school in Colombia, who live in difficult situations caused by extreme poverty.

Last fall, Dunn School art teacher Nancy Yaki saw an opportunity to make a difference in these kids’ lives and engaged her classes in a heart-warming effort called the Memory Project, an international program that invites art students to create original, hand-drawn portraits for children around the world who have faced substantial challenges due to extreme poverty and neglect.

“The intent is for these high school students to reach beyond themselves, get involved, and connect with other lives beyond their own,” said Yaki, who is in her 10th year of teaching at Dunn. “It’s really a win-win for everyone involved.”

By all accounts, the project was a success. Dunn students selected the pictures of the children they wanted to draw from a packet sent by the organization. Over the course of several weeks, the young artists completed 31 portraits of the Colombian children and also raised $5,300 to accompany the portraits.

The Memory Project made a video of Dunn’s portraits being delivered to the children, which can be seen at dunnschool.org.

The only requirement of the portraits is that they be lightweight and durable, so the children can keep them with them wherever they or their families go.

“We want the portraits to help the children feel valued and important, to know that many people care about their well being, and to act as meaningful pieces of personal history in the future,” said Ben Schumaker, who founded the organization in 2004. “For the art students, we want this to be an opportunity to creatively practice kindness and global awareness.”

One student, sophomore Nina Telesco from Santa Ynez, said she worked particularly hard on this class project because she wanted it to be “amazing for that little kid.”

“It’s not just giving money or food but something more special because it’s a gift from the heart,” Nina said. “It made me feel grateful for what I have and made me think about my own life.

Yaki says the organization approached her last year, impressed by the quality of work that Dunn students produced recently. Yaki has a long history of working on humanitarian efforts – including on-the-ground projects in poverty-stricken areas of Peru, Haiti, Egypt and Greece.

“Over the years, I’ve found that art really is universal,” she said. “People can communicate through art even when we don’t speak the same language.”

Founded in 1957, Dunn is a college-prep private school for grades 6-12 in Los Olivos.