Student artists from Burbank and John Burroughs High Schools joined together to for an event to share their work for the Portraits of Kindness program on Wednesday, April 10, in the Steve Campbell Library at JBHS. For the 2018-19 school year, the student artists based their artwork on photos of Rohingya children from Myanmar who are currently living in refugee camps in the neighboring country of Bangladesh.
“Students at both schools join together (a citywide connection through art) to culminate each year’s project with a celebration and evening of education about the country,” explained Burroughs Library Coordinator Julie Grene. “Participants and their parents are invited to watch the video of the children, sample some food from the country, discuss their experience, scrapbook keepsake photos and often hear a guest speaker from the country.”
“Part of the project is learning about the culture of the country, what circumstances have caused these children to be in the difficult situation they are in and how we can help.”
Guest speaker Ko Ko Naing, president of the Los Angeles Rohingya Association (LARA), spoke at the Burbank Portraits of Kindness event about his personal experience regarding the crisis taking place in Myanmar, with the ongoing oppression, abuse and genocide of the Rohingya ethnic minority.
Student artists from Burbank High who are participated are Isabelle Adamczewski, Alyssa Aguinaldo, Sona Avanesyan, Giselle Avitia, Jazmine Belcher, Carmen Camacho-Plata, Katrina Darwhich, Elizabeth Galadzhyan, Galla Housepian, Niamh Kochout, Ani Lachikian, Elisa Laloudakis, Emily Michaelian, Mary Nersesyan, Fatima Orellana, Ani Safarians, Alexis Saravia, Sera Shahbazian, Ana Varela, Sona Wyse, Michelle Yazdzhyan and Kate Sandoval.
Student artists from Burroughs High include Alexandra Cadena, Aliza Pino, Allison Hilliard, Amanda Silver, Amy Berberyan, Amy Martinez, Andrea Diaz, Andrea Ramos, Crystal Hopper, Daniel Poghosyan, Ella Jennings, Hannah Macaranas, Isabella Bullock, Jagger Guerin, Jami Anne Calimlim, Jon Heidenreich, Karla Linares, Katie Allen, Madison Nagashiki, Maggie Kusumonegoro, Megan Knutson, Megan Ng, Priscilla Sandoval, Reagan Shippey, Rebecca Butterworth, Ruby Gara, Sam Cruz, Samantha Leano, Sarah Thomas, Tiffany Rodriguez and Yejee Schulze.
Burroughs photography students who were also involved with the project are Gabi Williams, Alexia Calderon, Soroya Gonzales, Anika Maskara, Lakely Nealis, Madison MacNeill, Marisa Belle de La Torre, Michael Altawil and Karina Montes.
Grene and art teacher Dena Williams began the Portraits of Kindness program at Burroughs High in 2011, working with 18 students to create portraits for children living in Sierra Leone. Over the past eight years, 335 student artists have created portraits for children in 12 countries including Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Philippines, Vietnam, India, Madagascar, Peru, Colombia, Ukraine, Nepal, Syria and Myanmar.
In 2016, Burbank High joined the Portraits of Kindness collaboration, directed by BHS Library Coordinator Alicia Boote and art teacher Rebecca Platner.
The Los Angeles Rohingya Association (LARA) was founded in 2012 in response to the genocide and human rights violations in Myanmar. They work to advocate for and document the case of the Rohingya people’s oppression and to monitor the situation of human rights of Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Myanmar.
“This group has worked directly with the refugees in Bangladesh where our portraits were delivered this year,” explained said Grene. “So it was educational to have someone here who has been there.
The Rohingya, who have been living in Myanmar since the 8th century C.E., have been denied citizenship in their country since 1982 and have faced not just systemic discrimination and lack of rights but more recently have been subject to ethnic cleansing and genocide, according to the United Nations. More than one million Rohingya were living in Myanmar before the police and army began a campaign of violence against them in late 2016. In a few short months, from August to December 2016, an estimated 625,000 people fled the country, most to neighboring Bangladesh.
The Portraits of Kindness program is facilitated by The Memory Project, a charitable nonprofit organization started in 2004. Through the organization, teachers and their students create and donate portraits of children around the world who have endured neglect, abuse, loss of parents, violence and extreme poverty.
“Given that youth in such situations usually have few personal keepsakes, the purpose of the portraits is to provide them with meaningful mementos of their youth,” said Grene. “Each year, the portraits go to different countries across the globe.”
“The project also allows students to practice kindness, empathy and global awareness while enhancing their art and portraiture skills. This project is open to all students, regardless of enrollment in an art class. In addition, our students learn about the particular country, its people, its economy, its geography and also what has caused the children to be in this situation.”
“Individuals from The Memory Project go to visit group homes, orphanages and refugee camps to take photos of the children and send them to the participating schools. The artwork is finished by the determined deadline based on their travel back for delivery.”
“The portraits are then hand delivered directly to the children. A video is made of the joyous occasion, which is then shared back with us. We like to think of this as a global connection through art,”she added.
“Many of our students contribute to the project in multiple years,” Grene also said. “Creating a portrait is an intimate endeavor through which our students create a bond with the child.”
“Even though they will likely never meet, both the child and artist will carry this memory with them throughout their lives,” she added. “The most important aspect of this project is that students who participate do this work from a place of caring in their hearts.”