Maasai warrior hopes to work for diplomacy
Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, incoming Rotary World Peace Fellow, collaborated on 14 Cows For America
describing his Maasai tribe's response to the 9/11 attacks in New York City. Rotary Images/Alyce Henson
When Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah returned home to Kenya months after witnessing the 9/11 attacks in New York City, he found that most of his fellow Maasai, a nomadic warrior tribe, had only a vague understanding of the events of that day.
Naiyomah, an incoming Rotary World Peace Fellow, shared firsthand accounts with the East African tribe, using the oral tradition it has relied upon for years. Deeply moved by his story, Maasai elders felt compelled to do something to help.
That something turned out to be a decision to send a herd of cows to the United States as a display of sympathy and regret.
Naiyomah has collaborated with award-winning author Carmen Agra Deedy on 14 Cows for America , an illustrated children's book about his tribe's response, which received international attention. The book explains how cows are sacred to Maasai and valued above all other possessions.
"The cow is a symbol of life for us," says Naiyomah "What happened that day was devastating to me."
Although the cows were never shipped to the United States -- State Department officials decided it would cost more than the value of the herd to import them -- the tribe decided to keep them for the Americans, setting the cows apart and vowing never to slaughter them.
"The story focuses on healing and solution," says Naiyomah. "I think children can best understand that, because their hearts are so innocent. The future of a more compassionate world starts with them."
In February, Naiyomah will attend the Rotary Center for International Studies in peace and conflict resolution at the University of Queensland in Australia.
"Rotary International answered my prayers to belong to an organization that embodies what I silently believe in my heart: that using compassion can help solve problems," he says. "Rotarians are ordinary people taking extraordinary actions to foster relations with countries around the world."
Naiyomah says he hopes the peace studies program will help him find ways to promote peace.
The 9/11 attacks "showed me there's something very wrong with world relations," he says. "There is something lacking in diplomacy that I want to find out."
Naiyomah believes world leaders need to practice "compassionate diplomacy," valuing the lives of people over political expediency.
"Compassionate diplomacy must start by understanding and approaching conflicts with a caring aspect," he says. "Yes, one person can make a difference in the world. But only if they see themselves as the world, not as individuals."
Chosen as the state of Georgia's selection for the 2009 National Book Festival , 14 Cows for America goes on sale 1 August. Naiyomah has requested that his share of royalties from the book be used toward the purchase of copies to be given to families of 9/11 victims.