An International Effort

An International Effort
January 18
00:00 2013
Heather Bowden addresses Parkland students.

Heather Bowden addresses Parkland students.

Parkland students helping kids in Ghana

Children in the tiny village of Nsumesama, Ghana will soon be heading to school in style, thanks to the efforts of 17-year-old Ginaya Meyer.

Ginaya Meyer shows off some of her favorite designs.

Ginaya Meyer shows off some of her favorite designs.

Meyer, a senior at Parkland Magnet High School, is leading an ongoing project to purchase and decorate 60 canvas backpacks for school children in the village, which is nestled in the rainforest of the Volta Region and has no running water or electricity.

A native of Germany, Meyer has hosted several Saturday “paint one, take one” workshops at the school, where participants pay a fee of $10 to cover the cost of a canvas backpack and art supplies. They paint two bags, one for themselves and one for an African student, Meyer explained. To date, more than 35 bags have been collected for the children. It’s a dream come true for Meyer, an avid artist and captain of the school’s swim team.

“I had an idea in my head that I wanted to do something where I painted backpacks, but I didn’t have an outlet for it,” she said. “…I paint all the time and it’s incredible that I can channel that into something that will affect someone else.”

Meyer’s project was made possible by a partnership between Parkland and The Pocket Project Inc. Founder Heather Bowden, a Virginia resident who was inspired to found and construct a school for children in Nsumesama (pronounced in-soo-men-sa) after completing a study abroad program in the west African nation. Named for Bowden’s pet bird Pocket, the nonprofit she started serves as the umbrella organization for the Nsumesama Village Project, a three-year effort that resulted in a new school building for 55 village children ages 3-13. Construction was completed in July.

“We wanted to do it because the children would get a really good formal education, which we felt would be valuable,” Bowden told Parkland students during a visit to the school last week.

Meyer hopes to accompany Bowden when she returns to Ghana this summer to deliver the backpacks in person. She said the project has been a valuable learning experience for her.

“I think I’ve learned your talents aren’t just for aesthetic purposes or personal gain. You can affect people with what you’re given,” she remarked. “I’m just really excited that everything is coming together so nicely.”



Parkland’s International Baccalaureate Coordinator Randy Bourke and his students held a fundraiser last spring to benefit the Nsumesama Village Project after Bourke learned about the project, which Bowden launched as a junior at Hollins University in Virginia, from a friend.

“I found out about the project last fall through a friend and found it rather inspirational,” said Bourke. “Here was this young, single woman from the mountains of Virginia in Ghana, looking to make a difference by herself. How cool is that to see somebody who went out and did what it took to make a difference?”

Students must complete a CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) project in order to be eligible for an International Baccalaureate diploma, Bourke explained. Projects must have a local, national or international impact of some kind, such as Meyer’s backpack initiative. Bourke said he felt that Bowden’s example would be a source of inspiration for the students, who raised over $600 for the project by selling recyclable water bottles.

“Even though they’ve been working on the periphery, they’ve made a difference somewhere,” Bourke said. “The reality of that will hopefully inspire them to remain active citizens.”

In all, Bowden and her partner Benjamin Saunders have raised more than $14,000 to make the Nsumesama Village Project a reality. Though challenging, Saunders, who joined Bowden at Parkland, said being a part of the project was deeply rewarding.

Heather Bowden and Benjamin Saunders swap stories about their African adventure.

Heather Bowden and Benjamin Saunders swap stories about their African adventure.

“It’s one of the only things I’ve ever done in my life where it’s like you’re three good steps ahead of the bad ones,” he told the students.

The school building was constructed through a combined effort of the villagers and paid workers, who assembled the structure by hand.

Senior Imani McClure said she was excited to learn more about the initiative that has become the impetus for her CAS project. McClure, an aspiring fashion designer, plans to use the African fabric Bowden delivered to her after the talk to create original designs she will showcase in a fashion show this spring.

Imani McClure poses with the fabric she plans to turn into trendy designs.

Imani McClure poses with the fabric she plans to turn into trendy designs.

“What I planned on doing is tying in the culture and heritage of Ghana through the cloth,” explained the Crosby Scholar who is headed to Parsons design school in New York City in the fall. “They’ll be more American designs, but they’ll have the Ghanian fabric that she brought me.”

Funds generated from tickets to the fashion show will support the Nsumesama Village Project. McClure said she hopes to raise at least $500.

“I wanted to help out in a way that was familiar with me,” she said of her motivation to do the show. “…It’s a humbling experience for me. It’s a powerful opportunity for me to be a part of this. I just feel extremely thankful for this opportunity.”

For more information about the Nsumesama Village Project, visit

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Layla Garms

Layla Garms

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