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A Project to Remember

Shawe High School art students
give a special gift

Their portraits of children are made,
sent to poor regions

(May 2019) – The aptly-named Memory Project at Shawe Memorial High School has given 15 children a wonderful childhood memory in the midst of hunger, war and struggle. The mission project provides a portrait to a child living in extreme poverty who may have never received a picture of themselves otherwise.

Photo by Julie Stockman

Shawe Memorial High School art teacher Amy Fischmer (far right) leads her class in creating portraits for children living in poverty-stricken countries.

Shawe’s art teacher, Amy Fischmer, 41, of Madison, joins art teachers across the United States to provide the portraits. The non-profit Memory Project was started in 2004 as a senior thesis project. Now, however, it has grown into a company that aims to help give children something pleasant to hold on to, and to create “portraits for a kinder world.”
It works simply: every year, Fischmer receives a list of possible countries, along with a completion date. Choosing from this list, she gives her students a narrowed down list of children. Then the students choose a child and draw their portrait.
This year, Fischmer has chosen to have her students draw children from Columbia due to her family history with the country. “Growing up, we had exchange students from Columbia,” she said. “I have seen the culture and the lifestyle these kids are living in. It’s muddy. They are so poor. Their houses are made out of scrap metal or whatever they can find.”
Fischmer has been to Columbia three times and has seen the conditions first-hand, which she has described to her students. She notes that at least one student always says something about how happy the children look in the picture.
“Knowing that they don’t have what our kids have and they are living in these kind of conditions… yet they are all smiles and happy in these pictures – that kind of touches them.”
Although Shawe only began doing the Memory Project last year, it has already been fit seamlessly into the art curriculum.
Where students used to do self-portraits, they now draw children living in poverty. The students that participate are from grades 9-11, learning realistic drawing skills in the Introduction to Art class. Fischmer said she feels as though the students do better with this than they do with self-portraits.

Photo provided

One of the child portraits is pictured above.

“They actually try harder because they know it’s going to a child,” she explains. “They want the child to feel like it looks like them. They want to put forth that best effort.”
When the photographs arrive, they have a short bio on the back of each one – such as the child’s name, age and favorite color. The students attach their own bio on the back of each portrait before they return it. The Memory Project workers then personally deliver the portraits back to the children and record a video of the children opening them. An exciting highlight for Fischmer’s students is when they can watch the video of the children receiving the projects.
Her students say they enjoy the project and are happy to be helping others. “I feel like it’s for a really good cause because the kids are living in not exactly the best kind of conditions or area, and for them to receive something like this has got to be pretty big for them.” says 9th-grader Olivia Drumm. “It just overall gives me a good feeling.”
When asked whether she would want to do the Memory Project or a self-portrait, Drumm had no hesitation. “I’d rather do this,” she says, referring to her Memory Project experience.

She explains why: “I think in today’s society, here in America, we feel like we are really entitled to just ourselves and everything has to be about ourselves. To be doing this for somebody else, for somebody who doesn’t have as much as us, it’s just better.”

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