MARYSVILLE — Chona Dormaier pounded the clay, molding it into a bowl over the round stone below. She formed a separate doughnut shape and smoothed it onto the bowl, creating a base, then used a rag to expertly polish the wet gray clay until it gained a glossy shine.
Growing up in the Philippines, she learned to make clay flower pots to sell for food money. She could make several hundred a day, working from 5 a.m. until 6 p.m., she said.
She started making the pots when she was 12, the same age as the sixth-grade students at Cedarcrest Middle School she spoke with Friday morning.
The 24 students were part of an art project led by Laurie Shriver, who began teaching at Cedarcrest this year after moving from Philadelphia. She worked with about 150 sixth, seventh and eighth graders to draw portraits of children in the Philippines. Through the nonprofit Memory Project, those portraits were sent to the Philippines as keepsakes for the children and a way to show them that people care.
Shriver wanted to build pride and identity through creativity, she said in an email. She looks for projects that can help students understand other cultures, and show them how young people around the world are resilient in the face of hardship.
Shriver surprised the students Friday with a video from the Memory Project. It showed Filipino children receiving their portraits, from Cedarcrest and other schools around the country.
After watching, the students dug into plates of lumpia and pancit bihon, traditional dishes from the Philippines. Dormaier made the food, and answered questions about her homeland while students ate. Then she demonstrated how to make a flower pot.
Dormaier is the head custodian at Cedarcrest. Having someone on campus who can share first-hand knowledge of the Philippines adds so much to the Memory Project, Shriver said. Students asked about holidays, religion and food.
Families there usually are focused on what and how they will eat each day, Dormaier said. It’s hard to look toward the future. But through any hardship, they help one another.
“Filipino tradition is supporting your family,” she explained. “We live together, we stay together, we are always together.”
Cynthia Birrueta, 12, and Evelyn Trevino, 11, said the Memory Project taught them there are a lot of kids out there who don’t have much.
“You can make them smile with the simplest things,” Evelyn said.
Among the crowds of Filipino children in the video, Cynthia caught a glimpse of the little girl she drew. Each student worked from a photo of their subject.
“I was waiting to see her,” Cynthia said. “When I saw her, I kind of jumped up a little.”
Shriver hopes to have her classes participate in the Memory Project again. The next one is for Puerto Rico, she said.
Dormaier is glad to see students expanding their view of the world.
She met her husband online and moved to the U.S. in 2004. She sends money back to the Philippines each month for food and medicine. Her 80-year-old mother struggles with heart problems.
“I’m so glad I came here because I have a good job, I can support my family,” she told the students Friday. “I’m so glad to be here with you.”
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.