Recently I met a cultural ambassador from the Maasai culture of Kenya. His name is Nicholas Sironka and he holds programs for art students to learn his technique of wax painting which he developed over the years of his life. He has an interesting job where he talks with children at the Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane, Washington, encouraging them to paint and showing them a few techniques that can also work as a therapeutic process which helps the children find faith in their situation. Sironka is a funny guy that lights up the room at the hospital.
Since he has lived in Washington for the past two years, he has formed meaningful relationships with people in the community and is slowly working to spread awareness of a rare and endangered culture of his people. He has helped a dance troupe to travel from Kenya to perform in the United States, England and Korea over the past ten years. By taking the dance troupes to these countries, he has also helped the Maasai to learn of other cultures around the world. The dance troupe, called Friends of Sironka, sells Batik art, a technique that requires canvas, dye, and a way to transfer hot wax to the surface of the canvas. The troupe also sells bead work and shares stories. The funds they raise help them strengthen their family’s situation in Kenya. As they return home, they improve the condition of their houses and send young girls to secondary school to avoid female circumcision, which is done in preparation of their marriage at young ages.
It is sometimes difficult work for Sironka to identify the ways in which he can help his community, especially now that he has shifted from Kenya to the United States. He recently finished the exhibition of his work in Spokane at Ink to Media gallery, a business that makes posters, cards, and canvas reproductions of artists’ work. A few shops in town sell his cards, printed by the Ink to Media Gallery. One print in particular shows a painting of Maasai warriors sitting in a field watching their goats. The caption describes the painting, as two Maasai meet they exchange a greeting and then follows the phrase, “Feed me with words.” They go on to share with one another, stories of their families, livestock, and the weather back home. These cards are accompanied by a quote to describe what is going on in the painting. At the gallery, he would make tea for his guests and visitors as a gesture of hospitality from the Maasai culture, and now he is working on his next project to bring a group of students for a study abroad program in Kenya. He has already brought about 300 students from the United States to Kenya to experience the culture. This one Kenyan man has found a creative way to support himself, and in turn his culture, through his roots.