Nobel winner coming to support Charlotte-area student’s backpack project

Mongai Fankam distributes backpacks in Cameroon.
Mongai Fankam distributes backpacks in Cameroon. COURTESY OF ABONG FANKAM

A backpack donation project started by a Charlotte-area elementary school student has caught the eye of a Nobel Prize-winning activist.

Leymah Gbowee, who won the prize for advocating for peace and women’s rights in Liberia, will be in town this week to support No Backpack Day.

The movement was started by Mongai Fankam, who is now 11 and a sixth-grader at Carolina International School in Concord. Three years ago, she was on a mission trip with her mother to Cameroon, and she was struck by the lack of an essential piece of school life.

“I realized that every time I went, the kids were walking to school with all the school supplies in their hands, and I wanted to do something about it,” she said.

She came home and persuaded her schoolmates to go for a week without backpacks. Then they donated backpacks to schoolchildren in Africa.

The project has since expanded to Wilmington and Augusta, Ga., and more than 5,000 backpacks have been donated.

This week, Mongai has a goal to double that total. Gbowee heard about it and called Mongai to tell her she was coming to Charlotte to support her.

Gbowee will speak at Queens University of Charlotte at 11 a.m. Saturday. Tickets are available to the public.

Dunn: 704-358-5235;

Twitter: @andrew_dunn