In West Africa, Ibiyinka Alao's name means that he has family in every person he meets.

That name identification is quite appropriate to his global mission.

"As I travel around the world I get a chance to represent the culture of my country," said Alao.

Last week, the Arts Ambassador for Nigeria to the United Nations accomplished that quite well in talking to 850 students and faculty members at Jim Thorpe Area High School about his culture, art work, and the importance of understanding other cultures.

Alao was the 2001 First Place Winner of the United Nations International Art Competition. The award winning painting titled, "The Perversity of Life," chronicles the life of a woman from infancy to adulthood.

Alao has been traveling the world since 2004, speaking at peace conferences, schools, and community centers. His United States tour started in Maine.

Alao feels honored to be able to talk about his native land with other cultures. He said it's important to understand and respect different cultures because understanding and respecting cultures helps people get along better. People have a lot more in common than people have differences.

Alao talked about how his art pieces represented African culture.

In Africa, art is called "frozen music." He also described two characteristics of art. First, it embodies a message within a medium of communication.

Second, all art possesses a sense of mystery.

Alao has done paintings using numerous different mediums including acrylic, oils, water colors, and tempera.

Alao showed the students some of his work and gave backgrounds for the paintings. Some of the paintings he showed included: "Myself as an Individual," "A Long, Long, Way from Home," "True Miracles," and the award winning "The Perversity of Life."

The painting, "True Miracles," represents the life of an oyster. Alao said that through dirt and enzymes the oyster makes a pearl.

Through the irritations of an oyster, a beautiful pearl is made. People experience irritations as well and when they forgive those irritations they make a pearl as well.

Alao told the students that they were future leaders and what shows true strength as a leader is the ability to forgive ... to make a pearl.

Alao also discussed strengths and weaknesses. He said that when he was younger he struggled with public speaking.

Finally, he learned "If I can't talk about it, then just paint it."

"My weakness showed me the way to my strength," he explained.

Alao said that when a person discovers his or her weakness they also discover their strength.

After the assembly, students and faculty had an opportunity to look at more of his paintings and to purchase prints and have them autographed.

Alao also hosted workshops in the art classroom with students interested in painting with him.

Thomas Lesisko, JTAHS principal, said Alao delivered a positive message which uplifted the students and the faculty.

"He had a nice sense of humor," said Lesisko. "It was great having him visit."

Alao was thankful for the opportunity to share.

"It's great to interact with different people. It's so rewarding," he said. "Traveling and interacting with different people helps me to learn a lot."

Alao is so captivated by the local environment he hopes to stay in the Jim Thorpe area for the winter and work on painting.