Cardinal Hayes students create portrait of a child refugee

Andersson (l) and Wanderlei Sanchez with the finished portrait of Nadia.
Photo by Jackina Farshtey

The humanitarian crisis in war-torn Syria, told across oceans and airwaves can only be understood to a degree without ever physically travelling to the Middle East nation.

Two brothers, who attend Cardinal Hayes High School, got an inside glimpse into the problems overseas, through a portrait.

The opportunity to become globally involved came suddenly for Wanderlei Sanchez, 17, and Andersson Sanchez, 18, as they walked the halls of their school on what was just an average school day.

What they did not know was that their art teacher, Daniel Torres, would present them with a project that could change the life of someone living thousands of miles away.

“He said he had an art project he wanted us to help with,” said Wanderlei.

“He explained there was a 12-year-old girl named Nadia who was living in a refugee camp in Syria and he wanted us to draw a portrait of her,” continued Wanderlei.

The talented students did not hesitate, immediately accepting the challenge to help another youngster, even in the smallest way.

Pictures, and certainly portraits, have a way of detailing someone’s life, telling a deeper story than words could ever convey, while capturing the history of the subject and the world they live in. Nadia’s portrait however was not a random idea.

They learned that thousands of portraits are sent every year to other kids and teens in situations like Nadia’s from all over the world through a program called the Memory Project.

A portrait is often reserved for those who have high social status or historical importance, explained Ryan Egan, the communications director of the Memory Project.

“When we deliver these portraits to the youth in need, we see an increase in their sense of self esteem,” said Egan. “They say things like, wow somebody took the time to create a portrait just for me.”

The Memory Project was started in 2004 as a way to help youth around the world who face problems like neglect, abuse, losing parents, violence and poverty, according to the program.

“I hope this portrait inspires her because it inspired me,” said Anderson.

The portrait took about three weeks to complete and was officially sent to Nadia on Monday, February 12.

The Sanchez brothers have no guarantee whether they will be given a photo or video of Nadia receiving her portrait, but said they’re happy to represent themselves and their school and proud they received the opportunity to participate.

Wanderlei and Andersson also mentioned their parents were proud of them for creating the portrait, while crediting their love of art to their father, who taught them how to draw when they were very young.

“I don’t know what I would ever say to Nadia if I ever got the chance to meet her,” said Wanderlei, who explained he felt like he was a role model now. “I hope she will know that there’s no limit for where her own ideas can go by looking at the portrait we created for her.”

Reach Reporter Sarah Valenzuela at (718) 260-4584. E-mail her at

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