How incredible is the power of African women! We know how to come together and make it happen! This Spring I collaborated with No Backpack Day Organization in welcoming a visit from the First Lady of the Republic of Cabo Verde, Her Excellency Mrs. Ligia Dias Fonseca and her delegation. It was the first time the First Lady had been to the American south and the visit was nothing short of productive and inspiring!
Mrs. Fonseca was invited by the founder of No Backpack Day, 14 year-old Cameroonian-American, Mongai Fankam and her mom Abong. Mongai’s story and philanthropy is so inspiring to all of us, young and old. Please read more about the mission of this wonderful organization at www.nobackpackday.org. The main objective of this official visit was for Mrs. Fonseca to serve as keynote speaker of the No Backpack Day Annual Conference highlighting the successes of access to education for young girls and raising awareness of the challenges still faced by millions of girls in Africa and worldwide. The local organization has collected more than 10,000 backpacks and school supplies over the last 5 years that have been sent to Cameroon, South Africa, Liberia and this year, my beloved Cabo Verde.
Global Education for Girls at a Glance
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), there have been major gains in access to education for girls particularly with the work that has been completed for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The number of girls who are out of school has dropped by fifty percent since 2000. However, there is still a lot of work to be done. There are still 130 million girls who are out of school, all over the world. Over 30 million primary school age and over 90 million secondary school age girls are not attending schools for several reasons. 30 million of these girls are living in countries where natural disasters, war, health epidemics and extreme poverty create challenges to their education. There are roughly 80 countries with precarious conditions for girls’ education, primarily located in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. For inspiring stories from girls around the world, including her own story of personal hardship and triumph as well as for more information on the status and work on global education for girls, I encourage you to visit https://www.malala.org/, the website for Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and champion for global education for girls, Malala Yousafzai.
U.S. South Gets Hip to West African Island Nation, Cabo Verde!
In addition to the No Backpack Day Conference and its mission which has attracted the attention and presence of global leaders like Liberian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee and former president of Malawi Dr. Joyce Banda, the visit from the First Lady of Cabo Verde was very important in connecting Cabo Verde with North Carolina in more formal ways.
It shed light on the growing Cabo Verdean community in the southern region of the United States, namely North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Mrs. Fonseca’s visit was extremely productive in introducing Charlotte to the historical connections between the United States and Cabo Verde. The founder of the United House of Prayer For All People, Marcelino Manuel Da Graca, commonly known as “Sweet Daddy” Grace was born on the Islands and is featured in an exhibit at the Levine Museum of the New South. In addition to the Levine, the First Lady visited local elementary and middle schools, and the Gantt Center for African/African American Arts. Mrs. Fonseca also met with the mayor of Charlotte, Mrs. Jennifer Roberts, Dr. Ronald Carter, President of Johnson C. Smith University and local businesses interested in exploring African markets. Our very own Cape Verdeans of the Carolinas Association also hosted an “Afternoon Tea” for the community to meet and chat with Mrs. Fonseca, discussing ways that the Association and the Cabo Verdean government can collaborate in support of the homeland.
The visit from the First Lady also created a buzz for the JCSU Study Abroad Experience to Cabo Verde in May 2017, for which I was the lead faculty member. With the help of No Backpack Day Organization and its existing partnership with Charlotte area public and private schools we collected and brought 250 backpacks to Cabo Verde and donated them to the mayor’s office in the Island of Sao Vicente. We also collected school supplies and personal care items such as diapers, sanitary pads, toothbrushes, toothpaste, lotion, and shampoo. Stay tuned for my post of our adventurous and rewarding trip to Cabo Verde!
“SHE IS A GIRL LIKE MOST OF US…”
The daily interactions with Mrs. Fonseca touched my heart. This Mozambican-born and award-winning African woman is a kind, genuine and caring human being who is particularly concerned with the well-being of all children and works particularly hard to ensure a happy and safe upbringing for the children of Cabo Verde. The various Cabo Verdean and global organizations that she works with is a testament to this fact. Very reminiscing of First Lady Michelle Obama, Mrs. Ligia Dias Fonseca, who is also a lawyer by trade, is funny and real! She is a typical girl like many of us, concerned with how her hair looks, if her outfit is appropriate for the next state dinner and if her selfie looks good enough to post on social media. She spent quality time interacting with my daughter, sharing private moments with her and showing my Ema pictures of her own daughter, Rita. She loved the salmon salad and desserts at the famous Charlotte-based French-inspired bakery, Amelie’s. Mrs. Fonseca travelled with an all-female delegation comprising of her assistant, Mrs. Fatima Goncalves, Ms. Jaqueline Marques, advisor to the President on diaspora affairs, Ms. Oriana Goncalves, representative from the Cabo Verdean Embassy in Washington, D.C and New York-based Cabo Verdean designer and business woman Ms. Alzerina Gomes.
It was nothing short of GIRL POWER! Being around these accomplished and down-to-earth professional women made me feel inspired and motivated to keep doing the work that I do, knowing that I will always be supported by the Cabo Verdean community. I will no longer defend the fact that my work focuses on Cabo Verdean women. I will unapologetically own it!