Global outreach starts with one student 
 
Nine-year-old Mongai Fankam and her mother Abong are on a mission to help improve life for students abroad. Mongai, a fourth-grader at Blythe Elementary, who regularly visits Cameroon, Africa, with her mother, noticed that students have to carry books in their hands or in grocery bags. When she returned from Cameroon during her last visit, then in the third grade, she spoke to her teacher about the experience. In Feb. 2012, a movement began at Blythe with students leaving their book packs at home and deciding to carry their books in hand or in plastic bags for a day. In exchange, students donated book packs and other school supplies for the Fankams to deliver to school children in Cameroon.

The movement continued during International Education Week, which is observed Nov.12-16. This year, at least seven Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools participated in “No Back Pack Day” and more schools are expected to join in the spring. North Mecklenburg High School, Cotswold, Blythe, Lansdowne IB elementary schools, J.M. Alexander, Piedmont IB and Randolph IB middle schools took part in the event this year. Mongai’s goal is to have at least 30 schools participate this school year.

Randolph seventh-grader Brenden Coleman said he wanted to know what it felt like to have to carry his books and school supplies in hand.

“My parents wanted me to see how it felt to be less fortunate,” said Brenden. “I usually just use a book bag and that helps me get back and forth.”

During “No Book Bag Day” Brenden carried five books, one large notebooks, six folders, his lunch and gym clothes in his arms.  

“The notebooks were very heavy and every time the bus would stop, everything fell on the floor. I couldn’t do this every day. It is too hard. I can’t believe they do this every day without a book bag,” said Brenden.

According to Fankam, a native of Cameroon, students walk an average of six miles to and from school.

“Students have to carry the items in their hands or plastic bags all day. There are no lockers. If it is raining, imagine walking all day with those items,” she said.

Last year, Fankam delivered 500 back packs, pencils, erasers, sharpeners and notebooks to children in Cameroon. All of the materials were donated by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students.  

“In July, a group of us went to Cameroon of a 10-day mission tip. It was wonderful to see the children’s smiling faces when we gave out the school supplies,” said Fankham.  

Seventh-grader Miracle Okoro, a native of Nigeria, Africa, donated paper and pencils to the fundraiser. She also carried her school supplies in her arms on “No Back Pack Day”.

“I feel a lot of people have stereotypes about others, but look at me … I am African and I’m not participating because I am poor or don’t have,” said Miracle. “It is a duty for me to walk in their shoes and share with them what I have. I got a feeling of what it is like to reach out to people in need.

“Even though I am just a kid without any money, I can still afford to help others.”

To learn more about “No Back Pack Day,” e-mail Abong Fankam at AbongF@placeofhopescameroon.org or go to A Place of Hope for more information on Fankam’s charity organizations.