“To heal a sorrowing heart, give something that is dear to your own.”
When Kimeli, a Maasai tribesman and medical student at Stanford University who happened to be visiting the United Nations in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, returns to his Masai village shortly after the 9/11 attacks, a child asks him what stories he has brought with him. After sharing the story that “has burned a hole in his heart,” he asks the elders for permission to give the one cow that he has to the Americans because “to the Masai, the cow is life."
When the American ambassador comes to the village, the Masai present him with not one, but fourteen cows “because there is no nation so powerful that it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.”
Students in grades 4 and 5 discussed how the poignant gift of 14 cows by the Maasai tribesmen bridges cultural differences and exemplifies empathy. We also learned about Ubuntu - humaneness- a philosophy of life that emphasizes showing empathy for fellow humans. This concept is often demonstrated in African customs through actions of compassion.
During the read aloud, students were captivated by the illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez and how they helped to tell the story. They wondered how this story became a book and what happened to the cows.
We watched the following video from the 2009 National Book Festival to learn more about the making of this picture book and the gift from the Maasai.
To learn more about 14 Cows for America, visit the book's website here.