Art for Conservation

Engaging Children in Conservation and Cultural Heritage Through Art

Since 2005, Deborah Ross, a fine art lecturer at The School of Visual Arts in New York City and one of America’s leading wildlife artists, has led watercolor painting workshops in remote African villages to empower voices for conservation. Her Kenyan workshops provide a forum for children to learn from elders about Maasai culture and traditions. As the elders tell their stories, the children capture them in art. The children are given paint, brushes and paper and encouraged to explore their own personal vision of the world around them. In addition to being a fun way for children to learn about their heritage, these workshops result in paintings that are an important visual record of indigenous knowledge.

“When there is no one who remembers, there can be no language to speak to the ancestors with. And no way of passing on history and traditions.” — Siranga Naimando

Deborah Ross, Olcani

About the Artist, Deborah Ross

NYC Artist Deborah Ross has a mission – to alert the world to the diminishing wildlife and forests via art and publications. She started her career as a freelance artist for the New York Times and the New Yorker in the ’80s. Now she is one of America’s leading wildlife artists whose work has appeared in zoos, botanical gardens, and aquariums across the United States. She travels to Madagascar, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda to study and draw portraits of the animals.


Deborah Ross teaching painting to young conservationists

Painting Lessons in the South Rift

In 2014, through the help of Joel Njonjo, Lale’enok education outreach coordinator, Ross introduced painting lessons to three different schools in the South Rift. The schools that started painting lessons are: Olkiramatian Primary School, Patterson Secondary School and Oloika Primary School. Students learned how to paint trees, birds, wild animals and aspects of their community. These workshops benefit students in the following ways:

  • Provide students with a new medium to express themselves
  • Enable students to realize and develop their talents
  • Encourage students to look at and interpret their environment in new ways
  • Connect generations and captures indigenous knowledge
  • Facilitate the local students to publish a painted guide book of the local natural resources within Olkiramatian and Shompole group ranches

Lale’enok’s Education Outreach Program aims to continue the painting lessons and perhaps extend them to more schools in the South Rift.


Olcani — An Illustrated Guide to the Medicinal Plants of Kenya

In 2011, Deborah Ross worked with Siranga Naimando to teach children at Il Polei Elementary School how to paint and document local plants and animals. This workshop resulted in a beautiful booklet of watercolor paintings of traditional Maasai medicinal plants – Olcani, An Illustrated Guide to the Medicinal Plants of Kenya. The children’s paintings have also been exhibited throughout Kenya and in the U.S. as a travelling exhibit.

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