Skip to main content


Costa Mesa Students Create Special Artwork for Young Ukrainian Refugees
Posted 2/28/23

student with artworkAlmost every year since 2013, children around the globe have received a little handmade love from students at Costa Mesa Middle/High School. In a bright classroom filled with high tables and artistic influences, Art Teacher Keli Marchbank flips through a binder filled with the photos of Ukrainian refugee children she was sent from the Memory Project. “The kids look forward to this project every year. They sign up for it because they want to make that connection,” she said.  

The Memory Project was started by Ben Schumaker in 2004 as a way to foster cultural connections between youth around the world through art. Teachers who sign up with the program are provided a list of countries where there are children in need. Marchbank says she usually picks a place based on where she is in her art curriculum. She is then sent photos and basic information about the displaced children, such as their favorite color and what they like to do, plus three words they believe describe themselves. 

Marchbank’s students decide their subjects and whether to create a portrait of the child or art inspired by information that the child submitted. “When you look in someone’s eyes, you can see so much about who they are. There’s something my students see in those kids’ eyes that connects them. Maybe they relate to someone younger and what they went through when they were that age, or maybe they relate to a child their own age,” Marchbank said.

Students in eighth through twelfth grades used various mediums and styles in their artwork. While some students drew direct representations, others added details from the children’s profiles, like changing a young girl’s hair to be her favorite color or adding gymnastic rings. Some students developed their own styles, such as using color-blocking techniques. Still others made representative drawings that pulled from the details the children shared, such as a love of photography.    

The student artwork is returned to the Memory Project with a short note and photo of the artist. This year, Schumaker’s team hosted a party in Poland for the Ukrainian refugees who participated. They took video of the event and shared an edited version with participating teachers and young artists so they could see the reactions of the children and their families to the art created specifically for them. “It’s amazing  to see the students’ reactions. It’s beautiful and touching. I cry every year,” Marchbank said. “Sometimes kids in these situations might think they’re invisible, that no one can see their struggles, but we at Mesa see them,” she said.

In previous years, artwork from Costa Mesa Middle/High School students has reached children in Mexico, India, Ethiopia, Syria, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Malaysia and Cameroon.