NAHS creates portraits for refugee children

By Danielle Schwartz, News Editor

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The National Art Honor Society participated in the annual Memory Project, where they created 80 portraits of Rohingya children and raised 300 dollars through a calendar fundraiser.

Every year, West Essex collaborates with The Memory Project to support a different community. This year, the recipients were Rohingya children who fled genocide in Myanmar and are currently living in shelters in Bangladesh. The Rohingya ethnic community is nicknamed the “most unwanted” group of people on Earth.

In a message to students participating in this year’s Memory Project, the organization explained the significance of the portraits to the children. “For these children, who have rarely seen photos of themselves, the portraits will be gifts they could never have previously imagined,” The Memory Project said. “Thank you for helping us show these children they are not ‘unwanted’ in our shared humanity.”

Each NAHS member received a photo of a child and chose a medium to create their portrait. Members signed their completed portraits with messages on the back. After displaying them in the main entrance lobby, NAHS mailed the portraits to The Memory Project. With money raised from each participating artist, the project hand delivers the portraits to the refugee children. They create a large group video of the delivery to the country, so everyone can see the impact they made on the children’s lives.

“Working with The Memory Project is a unique and meaningful experience for our students,” NAHS advisor Amanda Procaccino said. “They get to use their passion for art to make something for a child less fortunate. This will be one of the only tangible memories these children will have of themselves from their childhood. I hope participating in this project reminds our students of how lucky they are. I know that I am truly humbled each year that we do this.”

Many of the children in the photos students received had paint on their faces, a tradition called Thanaka. A type of sun protection and makeup, thanaka is a cooling paste that helps bring a sense of normality to the difficult lives of Rohingya women and girls in the Bangladesh camps.  

“The make-up is my hobby, and it’s our tradition,” Juhara Begum, a 13-year-old girl who arrived in Bangladesh after fleeing a military attack on her Myanmar village, said. “I live on top of the hill and it is too hot with the strong sun. I can live without eating rice but I cannot live without makeup.”