Kenyan tribe donates cows to America
September 11th, 2013
10:07 AM ET

Remembering 9/11: A warrior's unexpected gift to America

By Tom Goldstone, CNN

Editor's Note: Tom Goldstone is the executive producer of Fareed Zakaria GPS. This article originally appeared in September 2011. The views expressed are his own.

As America looked inward in the days, weeks and months after September 11, 2001, others around the world made extraordinary gestures toward the United States. 
We were all so focused on ourselves – understandably so – that many probably missed the fact that Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami condemned the attacks, that Ireland and Israel held full national days of mourning, that the Afghan Taliban told “American children [that] Afghanistan feels your pain”.

You are even less likely to have heard what could be one of the most touching reactions of all.  This is the story of how a destitute Kenyan boy turned Stanford student rallied his Masai tribe to offer its most precious gift to America in its time of need.

It all starts with Kimeli Naiyomah.  Kimeli, a member of a Masai tribe, grew up in a small rural town called Enoosaen near the Masai Mara National Reserve.  The town had no water, no electricity, no phones and no roads. After accompanying his ailing mother to the hospital as a young boy, Kimeli says he knew he wanted to grow up to heal others like her.  He didn’t know such people were called doctors - he just knew he wanted to be one.

Dreaming of being a doctor is ambitious even in America.  But in Kimeli’s part of Africa, one could have easily dismissed that dream as impossible. This was especially true in Kimeli’s particular situation.  He says he had no father.  His grandmother had been murdered.  And his mother – his only remaining caretaker – was battling alcoholism.

According to Kimeli, his family (or lack thereof) was so destitute that his Masai tribe didn’t even consider them people – they were sub-human. Moreover, nobody that Kimeli knew from his tribe had gone to high school, let alone college or medical school.

He knew he had to change his situation, so he ran away – to another village where he had heard that there was a school that was taught under a tree.  It was a church school and it became his grade school and his home.

When he grew beyond this school-under-a-tree,  Kimeli found the nearest high school, which was 9 hours away.  So he walked there and told the principal that he had no money, no uniform, no books, no shoes and no family, but he wanted to attend school.  And, as Kimeli tells the story, the principal was so amazed by Kimeli’s gumption that he welcomed him to the school.

Kimeli soon realized he probably couldn’t achieve his dream of becoming a doctor if he remained in Kenya.  So he started applying for universities in America.  He says, “My elders got together to try to raise money to help me achieve my goals.”

The same elders who had once considered Kimeli to be sub-human had done a complete reversal.  Kimeli says his people were now were so impressed by what he had achieved that he was not only considered human again, they were invested in helping him achieve his goals.  They raised $5,000 for him.

A Washington Post reporter then caught wind of the story and came to Enoosaen to write a story about Kimeli’s doctoral dreams.  That story ended up on the front page of the paper. The article inspired an outpouring of support, including a scholarship offer from the University of Oregon, a plane ticket from a businessman in Florida and clothes and other materials he needed to survive in America paid for by another total stranger.

“You can imagine how I felt”, Kimeli says, “when I received a letter offering me a scholarship in America.  It’s like getting a letter from God when you know you’re not qualified for heaven.”

Kimeli enrolled at the University of Oregon in 1996.  A few years later, Kimeli heard about Stanford University (after Chelsea Clinton enrolled there) and decided after seeing the school that that was where he belonged.  He says, “It looked like a village to me”.  And once again, Kimeli made his own luck, getting accepted at Stanford after getting his grades up in Oregon.

Kimeli had become a celebrity of sorts back home.  In September of 2001, the President of Kenya was scheduled to be in New York and Kimeli says he was invited to meet with him.  And that’s how Kimeli – now officially a full Masai warrior back home – found himself in New York City on September 11, 2001.

As a warrior, Kimeli is trained to rush to the scene of crisis.  “You run to the battleground,” he says, “I don’t run away from tragedy, I run to tragedy.  But I was realistic enough to know I couldn’t help [at Ground Zero].”

Kimeli says he is also a very emotional warrior.  9/11 touched him deeply. The country that had given him so much had been brutally attacked.  He had to figure out a way to help.  He had to do something.

So, on a trip back home in May of 2002, he asked to meet with the elders of his tribe.
First, Kimeli told them of the horrors he had witnessed in New York.  Many of Kimeli’s people had never even heard of 9/11.  They couldn’t even fathom buildings that tall and most people in the village had never seen a plane except way high up in the sky.

Then, Kimeli told them of his plan.  He wanted to buy a cow (something this formerly homeless boy had never been able to do) and turn right around and give that cow to America. In Kimeli’s tradition, a cow is the most precious property one can own.  And it is believed to bring great comfort to its owner.  As one elder told a reporter, a cow is a “handkerchief to wipe away tears”.

He wanted his elders’ blessing for his plan.  But, unexpectedly, one-by-one the elders stood up and said they were so inspired by his plan they wanted to do the same.  In the end there were 14 cows that had been pledged to the American people to help bring them peace.

On June 3rd, 2002, U.S. charges d’affairs William Brencick travelled to Enoosaen to formally accept the cows.  He says it took him more than half-a-day to get there - a flight and then a long drive over treacherous terrain.  But after he heard Kimeli’s story, he wanted to go.

Brencick expected to be greeted by a handful of people, but when he arrived, he found a large crowd. Kimeli says more than a thousand people were in attendance.  Kimeli had brought American flags with him.  The “Star Spangled Banner” played on a loudspeaker.  Some in the crowd held up banners that said: “To the people of America,” “We are touched by your loss” and “We give these cows to help you”.  Brencick says it was “overwhelmingly emotional” and he couldn’t help but tear up.

But there was a hitch. Logistical and monetary problems prevented the U.S. from taking possession of the cattle.  The herd was worth much less than the considerable amount it would cost to ship it 7,250 miles to New York City.  And there were health hurdles: African cows weren’t allowed in America.  In addition, there was concern that the cows might not survive the voyage anyway.

Washington Times columnist Tony Blankley heard what was going on and wondered how the U.S. could get 80,000 troops into Afghanistan, but couldn’t get 14 head of cattle out of Africa.  As for the Masai, they couldn’t quite understand why this American came to accept the cows, but then didn’t take them home with him.  Some wondered why he didn’t just load the cattle on a truck and drive them to America.

Four years later, on the 5th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, all was made right.  Then-U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger traveled to Enoosaen to cement a deal for Kimeli’s tribe to take care of “America’s” herd in perpetuity.  And, as a way of saying thanks, the Ambassador announced the establishment of a scholarship for 14 boys and girls in the village to go to local schools.  Those scholarships continue to this day. 
And today the herd continues to grow.  As of right now, 35 “American” cattle roam the plains near Enoosaen, tended lovingly by one of the elders in Kimeli’s tribe. 
If you ever find yourself there, you’ll know which are the American cattle.  They have special Twin Towers markings on their ears.

As for Kimeli, he’s decided he can do more for the world as a diplomat than a doctor.  Next fall, Kimeli hopes to become a Rotary International World Peace fellow at Duke University.

If you’re interested in reading more. Kimeli’s story is featured in a children’s book 14 Cows for America. 
A free copy of the book is available for all those who lost family members on September 11, 2001.

Post by:
Topics: Africa • September 11

soundoff (558 Responses)
  1. JennyTX

    So touching I got all choked up.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  2. Ty

    This is a very touchy story.

    911 has affected everyone. And it's great to see all countries coming together.

    Ty from

    September 11, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  3. SherylLynn

    Beautiful story!

    September 11, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  4. Palaniappan Rajaram

    I had tears in my eyes when I saw slide #7. It is the gesture that counts. According to me, based on a very small sample from these comments, this has accomplished something very important which is the mutual admiration and respect between two societies. It is the lack of mutual respect and not the disparity in wealth that causes people to hate each other.

    I will admit that I do not know how and to what extent US and other wealthy nations help Kenya and other countries which are in need. But, it is my opinion that in addition to the token assistance such as this scholarship and other aid, government should encourage and help businesses in investing in Kenya. Something as simple as the manufacturing of basic nails, screws, nuts and bolts, if it could be setup in Kenya instead of in China (and other more developed nations), it would go a long way to help people build better lives for themselves.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Reply
  5. GJ

    This story brought tears to my eyes. I was already teary-eyed reading/watching the 9/11 memorial coverage today.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Reply
  6. Frankfoe

    It was a shame that the Bush admin couldn't protect us that day 10 years ago. The Bush admin failed, George W.Bush failed as a president. Thank God for President Obama. He killed Bin Laden. Something the Bush Admin couldn't accomplish. It is very sad to be a Republican. They are very weak and pathetic... So sad......

    September 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Reply
    • Pragmaclast

      If you're so strong and brave, why don't you post your real name and address on here, Mr. Internet Tough Guy.

      September 11, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  7. Toby

    This was a gift worth a price far beyond rubies...

    September 11, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  8. Cesar

    What an inspiring story. Mr. Kimeli Naiyomah: you are an amazing human being! We are lucky to have you. Thank you. And also thanks to reporter CNN's reporter Tom Goldstone.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Reply
  9. mia

    Thanks CNN for this story. Please do more positive reporting/articles. People need these stories now, not all that negative political crap (reps vs demo). Let's become the GREAT country we used to be collectively! yah cow story.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  10. Rajinder

    Really a touching story....!!If every human could understand/empathize with people from parts of the world where not so much abundance is there,the world could become a better place to live for everyone...It's true that what goes around does come around...

    September 11, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  11. wendy

    we are all of one race, the human race. a beautiful illustration, thank you.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  12. Epidi

    How inspiring and wonderful!

    September 11, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  13. salvatore

    What an incredibly kind thing to do.

    September 11, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  14. YouIdiot!

    This story surely makes me feel proud to be an American!

    The heck with Kyle Willis, father of 4, uninsured, unemployed who died of a tooth infection.

    Who cares about the 45,000+ Americans who die every year because they fail to get medical check ups because they have no medical insurance, which they can't afford. It's all their fault!

    Instead of helping our loser fellow citizens, let's educate 700,000+ foreign legally students (not including illegals) to make us feel all the better!


    September 11, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  15. nebby

    yah, and then Kenya gave us Obama... thanks... 😦

    September 11, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  16. TrashCanSam

    First they give us a president then some cows!! Thanks Kenya... We really appreciate the Cows!!

    September 11, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Reply
    • munchie

      You have that wrong, the cows were first, and they didn't "give" us our president.

      September 11, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  17. Fellow Humanbeing

    A beautiful story. My eyes welled up. And it left a sense of inspiration and devotion towards my fellow human friends. I remember a line from the hollywood movie- that's what i am
    Human Dignity + Compassion = Peace
    This is what our world needs.. Thanks for making my day.

    September 11, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  18. WillH85

    Always good to read stories like this to remind us that even though there are plenty in the world that hate us, there are also plenty that are friends of America. Not only that, but its good to be reminded that it may be rare, but once in a while the American dream still happens.

    September 11, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Reply
    • YouIdiot!

      @wwillh85...the reason we have so called "friends" is because we give them money, food, medical and military aid. I wonder if they would still be our friends if we did not give them any type of aid....something to ponder, huh?

      Unfortunately, the so called American dream is coming to foreigners, legal and illegal, and coming from the American taxpayer.

      By the way, how many Americans are unemployed, homeless and receiving food stamps? Any foreign governments helping them?

      No American dreams for them, no siree!

      September 11, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Reply
      • gingerpeach

        It isn't real "giving" if you have to figure in what you have given. I feel sorry for you if that is your thinking.

        September 11, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
      • YouIdiot!

        @gingerpeach...please don't feel sorry for me....feel sorry for the homeless, the people going to bed very hungry, the unemployed, the people who can't afford going to the doctor or pay for their meds.

        My point was, when you have to give, give, give, and keep on giving, just so someone will "like" you (like buying a friendship/relationship) is no friend. It must be mutual. Try this with a friend, but you just take and see how long that friendship lasts.

        Think Pakistan. How much aid (food, medicine, money, technology, military, educated their people) have we given them? Is it appreciated? Maybe by them burning our flag shows the love they have for us. What other types of "kindness" do they give us?

        There's theory and then there is reality. I choose to live in reality. There is also common sense. Some people have it, some don't.

        September 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  19. Kamuhia

    This is a great story that some of you want to spoil by bringing up umnecessary issues like politics, racism, etc. I am a Kenyan and we are very generous people like other generous people in the world, i am really pround of what my fellow countryman did for USA at the time of need. We may not be rich as some of you expect, but we are very rich in our hearts and in many other ways .It is for this reason that my fellow Kenyan donated 14 cows. It is just an act of humanity!

    September 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  20. thade

    This story is very inspirational and educative. It teaches the spirit of care towards humanity Great to have Kimeli as a coworker

    September 11, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  21. XxMacleodxX

    awesome story......

    September 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  22. Crockett

    Let's just hope Ronald McDonald doesn't read this story. "Where's the beef?" (But, seriously, this is an inspiring story, and I, too, teared up reading it. Some CNN articles scream "bleeding heart!" and political correctness. However, I appreciated this article for what it was: an inspiring heartfelt story that deserves to be told.)

    September 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Reply
    • YouIdiot!

      It was Wendy's, not McD.

      September 11, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Reply
      • Crockett

        I did not mean to connect the two remarks. I was poking fun at those who will inevitably find stupid humor in this rather than take the article to heart. I should have given Dave or Wendy equal billing with R. McDonald.

        September 12, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  23. sanjosemike

    Some people are able to accomplish the impossible. I don't know how they do it. This is one of those stories. Should I ever complain about something mundane, I need to have somebody shake me by the shoulders and say: "Look at what you shut up and do something for someone else!"


    September 11, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Reply
    • gingerpeach

      Great idea!! We all need to be more greatful for what we have!

      September 11, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  24. Randy Grifiths

    This is the kind of story that should make the big time news. Why must negativity rule the day when such positives can also be shared?

    That said, out of the Billions of foreign aid dollars we hand out every single year, we're offering them a lousy 14 scholarships for (semi)LOCAL schools? You can't be serious! Tell me we can't afford to get those folks a cow apiece, pay the village handsomely for taking care of OUR growing herd too, and set up a quality school with vocational training? If Oprah can afford it, I'm pretty sure the US can.
    The story of Mr. Naiyomah and his village is a great one. A couple of Million dollars could change thousands of lives for the much better.

    September 11, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  25. AmandaL.

    Thank you for reminding us of the beauty that comes from such horror. This made a perfect story to share with my son, who is 7, to help him understand the true selflessness and love that exist in the world. It's important to remember that dreams do sometimes come true and that most people are inherently good. On a day when my son has so many questions about the "scary, bad people," I wept as I recounted this story for him. His response, verbatim: "wow mom, that's as if we could buy 14 houses and give them to homeless people who we've never met. Those people in Africa are really, really nice. They should teach those mean men who want to kill Americans! They need to learn that hating all of us for no reason is wrong. I learned that before kindergarten and they were grown-ups!" So take that, bad guys.

    September 11, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Reply
  26. Brian

    What a touching and inspiring story.....I think we should reciprocate by giving Obama back to them. It's definately not the equivalant of a bunch of cows but would be nice of us anyways.

    September 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Reply
  27. Babatunde Olawanle

    Kimeli's story is a common and everyday thing in most African countries even those that are considered to developing like my Nigeria. But Kimeli's fate and pre-destination of becoming great in life and perseverance took him to pinacle of fulfilling destiny. His gift to the U.S.A, it's trully from the heart.

    September 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Reply
  28. gingerpeach

    I think this was a wonderfull gift! God Bliss the people that gave it to the US!! They are wonderful and so caring they gave to a country that they really didn't know and to people they didn't know. My heart is touched that they found it in their hearts to care so much.

    September 11, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Reply
  29. Laurence C

    This is a wonderful story and it too exemplifies the American spirit of giving to those in need.

    September 11, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Reply
    • wilson

      Yes I agree! Especially because America needed more cows after 9/11. And now we have 35! Maybe if the herd gets large enough we can sell them off to help pay down our national debt. Ted Turner might be willing to buy them to put on his million acre ranch. What's a Kenyan cow worth nowadays?

      September 11, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Reply
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