By Aisha Sander
Cheridyn and Ryan Egan work for the Memory Project, a
non-profit that has created more than 130,000 portraits of
children across the world.
Photo by: Bradley Sander

Local couple Ryan and Cheridyn Egan first got involved with the Memory Project in 2009. According to the Memory Project Website, “The Memory Project is a charitable nonprofit organization that invites art teachers, art students, and solo artists to help cultivate global kindness by creating portraits for children around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as violence, war, extreme poverty, neglect, and loss of parents.” Since 2004, the Memory Project has created more than 130,000 portraits for children in 47 countries. The founder of the Memory Project, Ben Schumaker, initially contacted the couple in 2009 to ask them to visit two children’s organizations outside of Lima, Peru to photograph about 500 kids living there. The photos would then be used to create portraits. Schumaker reached out to the Egans because he had heard through family connections that they had served in the Peace Corps in Peru.

This first contact led to the couple joining the staff of the Memory Project during the summers. From 2012 to 2016 the Egans worked as Overseas Educators for an organization called Carpe Diem Education, based out of Portland, Oregon. Because their jobs as educators followed a traditional academic calendar, they were free in the summers to work for the Memory Project. During this time, the Egans traveled to about 15 countries to deliver portraits on behalf of the Memory Project. In 2016 they joined the organization as administrators. After five years of nearly constant international travel, the couple decided to settle down. They wanted to find a community near where one of them had roots. Cheridyn, originally from Wisconsin, is not a big fan of winter, so they chose Tucson, where Ryan had grown up.

From their time in the Peace Corps, they also knew that they wanted to find a rural community and preferably someplace with a number of agriculture/permaculture projects. While doing research on communities in Southern AZ they came across Deep Dirt Farm and contacted owner Kate Tirion. Initially they started to come down from Tucson on the weekends to volunteer with Tirion. “It didn’t take long before we fell in love with the community and the landscape and in 2017 decided to call Patagonia home,” Ryan said.

Thanks to the Internet, the couple can work for the Memory Project remotely from Patagonia. The Egans do all their work on two laptops, seated at the kitchen table in Lynn Davison and Judy Clegg’s travel trailer (nicknamed the Toaster). The other five employees of the Memory Project all live in Madison, WI, where the office is located in
Schumaker’s garage.

Cheridyn is the Memory Project’s “digital guru.” Each year the project receives almost 30,000 photographs of children from all over the world who are going to receive portraits. She labels, crops, and edits each photo before they are sent out to artists. Additionally, she manages the process for creating short videos for each school that participates in the project. When portraits are delivered to the kids, the Memory Project always make a short video of the experience so it can be shared with all the artists who created the portraits.

Ryan handles all the communications with teachers, artists, and partner organizations throughout the year. They currently work with approximately 2500 schools and some 500 individual artists in more than 30 countries. He handles all the registrations, matching children to artists, due date reminders, financial donations, and all the other administrative details that the process requires.

The Egans used to travel internationally five to six times per year to visit partner organizations and transport portraits to the kids. However, in the past few years, they have scaled back to just one trip per year. This summer they will go to Peru to take portraits to about 1000 children who are living in one of the many suburbs that surround Lima. They will also have a chance to return to Peace Corps communities and visit with Peruvian friends and family members.

What they love about the Memory Project is that it is a creative way to bring peace building and empathy into the classrooms where the portraits are being created. “We hear time and again from our teachers that this activity brings out a different level of engagement and introspection from their students. Our hope is that the Memory Project is helping to shape a generation with more kind and compassionate individuals,” Ryan said.

In addition to student groups, the Memory Project works with a number of individual artists each year. The Memory Project would be excited to have the support of Patagonia artists who would like to create a portrait. There are opportunities for creating portraits all year round. To get started, contact Ryan at portraits@memoryproject.org. More information is available on the website: www.memoryproject.org.