Orphans And The Art of Diplomacy

Nearly four years ago, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman brought you the story of Ben Schumaker and his "Memory Project."

In Washington D.C., in the exhibit hall of U.S. State Department, there's a new art exhibitthat paints foreign relations in a whole new light.

The subjects are orphan children from Thailand. The artists are high school students from New Hampshire.

The students painted the orphans from photos supplied by Ben Schumaker.

"To see the portraits at the State Department makes me feel honored to be a part of this," he said.

We first met Ben at the base of a volcano in Nicaragua. He had come to an orphanage with a suitcase full of portraits just like the ones on display on the State Department. Paintings that were never meant for anyone's eyes, except the children in them.

Ben got a high school art class in the States to do the portraits, because he thought they'd really appreciate them. And he was right.

Remember, these kids didn't have parents snapping baby pictures. Most don't even have a single photo, let alone a precious painting.

Ben calls this "The Memory Project." When we first met him he was running the project out of a spare bedroom at his parent's house - today it's his full time job.

"The project is much bigger and in many more countries than I could have ever imagined," Schumaker said.

After our story,Ben says art classes signed up in droves. As a result, he's now delivered about 25,000 portraits to orphans in 31 different countries around the world. It's not just those orphans who've benefited.

"Every day they come into the art classroom and there it is - looking right into the eyes - Bam." Schumaker said. "I really think that the artist comes to know them, and does form a connection - no doubt."

One student said the boy in the picture reminded her of her little brother. Another student said, "You can just tell by looking at their faces what
they've been through sometimes."

The students have learned compassion - to Ben, that's a word worth a thousand pictures.

Or 25,000 to be exact.

More about "The Memory Project"
The Memory Project Website
The Memory Project on CBS News
Memory Project in Nicarauga

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.