Saving a tribe at the McClelland Art Gallery

“Cassi, we have a new name for you,” said Solomae. “’Nashipae,’ which means joy. You’re beautiful and full of happiness. We’re sad you have to go soon, but know you can always come back. You’ll always be our sister, a Maasai.”

Cassi Fitzpatrick, senior communication major and art minor, sat close to her new family and was again awed by their boundless kindness. Accepting her as one of the tribe meant they would rely on each other in truly life or death circumstances. “I accept the responsibility,” she thought.

As they sat on the grass together, the blazing Kenyan sun warm on their necks, the children laughed as they teased their American friend. Fitzpatrick had spent a week with the Maasai and she loved interacting and being taught by both the kids and the adults. Her quirky tendencies always excited the children and invariably, they mimicked her. “They teased me because they said I was holding their puppy like a baby,” she recalled, smiling. “Then some of them began doing it too.”

Fitzpatrick was greatly impacted by her experience with the Maasai people two years ago when she was a student missionary in Kenya and has carried the experience close to her heart.  “During my Christmas break the kids and I would just sit on the grass together every day,” she said. “They would put stickers all over themselves like it was jewelry, probably trying to imitate their parents. Sometimes I would start swinging my arms because the flies would bother me and then they would swing their arms too, even though they really weren’t bothered. I wish I had more pictures, but when I was actually there I wanted to spend time being with them instead of taking photographs.”

Fitzpatrick will display her senior art exhibit in the McClelland Art Gallery March now through March 25.  The exhibit is designed to promote awareness of her tribe, the Maasai’s, fragile lifestyle and raise funds to help them. “There will be pictures from Kenya and a display explaining my goals and the people I’m trying to help,” she explained. “I’ll be selling bracelets the Maasai made and other handmade crafts from Africa to support the project. Not all the pictures will be from Africa, but each has a deep meaning to me and they will all be for sale.”

Living with the Maasai people gave Fitzpatrick more than just good memories and stories. As time moves on, she is beginning to realize the big plans God has for her life. In September of 2011, God led Fitzpatrick and a team of volunteers to begin the “Not Oh Well” project. Their mission is to dig wells for the Maasai tribe in Kenya and give the people clean drinking water during the painfully prevalent droughts. “People may not realize that by helping this cause, they’re not just saving one life, but preserving an entire tribe of people,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s keeping a culture alive that otherwise may not exist 50 years from now.”

“God has brought so much out of this project already,” Fitzpatrick shared.” When you surrender your life to God He gives you a purpose and there’s nothing in the world like knowing that He has you here at this time for a specific cause.”

More than anything, Fitzpatrick wants people to realize that life isn’t about waiting for the right moment to start acting. “If people want to get involved we’re always looking for help in different talents,” she emphasized. “Everyone has a purpose on this earth, it may be helping people in Africa or it may not, but I want to give youth in the church the opportunity to know that they can make a difference and that it’s not “oh well” all the time, it’s N.O.W.”

The McClelland Art Gallery is located in the Ortner Center on the campus of Union College, 3800 S. 48th Street. Open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, the gallery is free and open to the public. Items for sale can be purchased at the Ortner Center front desk. Proceeds will go to support the N.O.W project.