cyna-cows-1At an October assembly for upper school students, sixth grade homeroom teacher Lucy Turner read “Fourteen Cows for America,” a picture book loaned by academic support teacher Vicki Kelly. Projecting images of the book’s vivid illustrations onscreen in the theater, Turner read the text by Carmen Agra Deedy and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, which recounts the true story of a young medical student’s return from New York City to his native Kenya. A member of the pastoralist Maasai tribe, the young man is asked, as all returning travelers are, what story he has brought back with him. In language that focuses on neither politics nor perpetrators, the young man tries to describe the devastation of the 9/11 attacks. The Maasai elders who hear his story want to do more than empathize. They decide to offer the wounded nation a gift of cows, their greatest treasure. Though the cows would remain in Kenya, fed and cared for by Maasai, they would never be sold and would bear a brand representing the Twin Towers.

Art teacher Linda Conti picked up this thread and devised a follow-up project. Fifth and sixth gradermaasai-thank-you-cardss discussed that when there is nothing to do to ease another’s pain, they can still offer a symbolic gift of compassion. As a way of saying thank you to the Maasai, the students drew from photographs, creating East African landscapes and humpbacked, horned Kenyan cows to decorate their thank-you cards. In English class, they added letters of appreciation for a gift given before their birth.

Conti contacted the Embassy of Kenya, which welcomed the students’ letters and helped with delivery. Appropriately, the packet should arrive in East Africa by the holidays. The Maasai people’s gift prompted Hill School teachers to share an important story with their students, who used original art and writing to reach across the world.