GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — At Grimsley High School in Greensboro, art pencils are moving across the paper and students in Heather Ellington’s Art 3 class are working hard on an assignment. But this assignment isn’t to generate a grade but rather joy halfway around the world. It’s called the Memory Project.
Ellington helped to bring the project to Grimsley.
“They reach out to art teachers and students all over the country to create portraits for youth. And that might be youth in extreme circumstances like poverty or abuse, whatever it may be,” she said. “It’s meant to be a project to reach out for kindness, to show kindness all over the globe. So, we here in Greensboro have been partnered with students who are youth in Syria to create this partnership of: that we see you, we hear you. We know you’re there.”
Each portrait is created from a single picture of a child. The students see this project as being very important. Asia Babiker is a senior who admits she is putting pressure on herself to make the portrait the best she’s ever done.
“I want to do it. Like, I want it to look perfect. Like, I want them to look happier. To look at it, like ‘That’s me.’ Like they can feel proud that it came out just like them, you know?” she said.
Ellington says that is a perfect example of how seriously the students are taking this assignment.
She said, “If you sit down and you look at how much they’re looking left to right from the photograph, capturing small expressions like when someone’s smiling and they have that little dimple that’s on the side, they’re just in there staring at it and studying. And it is so evident when you walk in the room to hear a pin drop because their intent is there. Their heart is in it. It’s huge.”
Senior Sy Raiah Webb agrees.
She said, “I think I started realizing that more after we started. I was like, ‘OK, OK. … This is a big project.”
For some, it’s changed how they approach their craft.
“It gives me the idea that art isn’t only about creating. It’s also about making other people feel special within art, just remaking a moment of their lives through our art,” said senior Joselin Vargas-Teodoro.
And they are realizing they can make an impact in a country thousands of miles away.
“I like seeing people happy. You know, like people in challenging situations,” said Babiker. “They get to feel loved, like people in this world care about them, like they’re not alone.”
According to Ellington, “that was the goal of this. That they can think past themselves and see themselves globally. And that’s the goal as a teacher. It’s not just taking art in the classroom, but it’s promoting kindness through art and a global perspective, which is great.”
Instead of signing the portrait in the typical way, the students will have a very special signature on the back.
“The Memory Project has a part where we put the hand, we trace our hand, and then the children out there that receive our project put their hand on top of it. So, it’s like we’re reaching out to them throughout the world,” said Vargas-Teodoro.
Ellington said she “really wanted to create a project in which they’re never going to forget this. They can see themselves in a student all the way across the world and know that, if they were in a situation like that, somebody knows they’re there.”
You could call it a mission accomplished, at least according to Babiker.
“This is actually the best project for me that I ever did. I feel so happy to complete it, because we’re making children happy.”