Dani Walker's no stranger to DR Congo-- she's been interested in the country since 2005, a junior in high school, when she learnt of the devastating effects of the civil war there. After watching about the conflict on an episode of Oprah, the messages she heard that day on the show stuck on in her mind. She began reading about Congo, the conflict, and Africa overall. Dani later entered IU for International Studies and the African Studies program."It was the only thing that really gripped me at the time when I was supposed to be deciding what to do with my life and what to go to college for, " she explains.
After beginning her career at IU, Dani was referred to Ann Marie, co-founder of GBA, who grew up in Congo. There were few people Dani knew of who knew about the conflict there, let alone had visited the country. The two quickly formed a friendship, and Ann Marie helped to nurture Dani's passion while also continuing to grow her vision of Giving Back to Africa. "I have always been a big-picture thinker, so I loved how GBA strategically invested in people to grow up leaders for the country," says Dani.
Ann Marie really hit home the idea of investing in people rather than projects. She saw potential in Dani and in the Congolese people to be the producers of their own positive change. "Most organizations bypass people and instead invest in projects, which at the best will make a temporary difference. What is special about GBA is that they have a long-term vision for Congo and they work alongside the Congolese people. This is truly a unique and special vision that I wanted to be a part of and make a way for others to also be a part of!"
Later on, Jim and Ann Marie connected Dani with another student, Micah Widen. Both wanted to be a part of the GBA vision. Dani writes, "We began envisioning a student organization with three objectives: 1) to raise money to support GBA’s programs 2) to raise awareness about the issues facing DR Congo, and 3) to build mutual relationships between the Congolese and Bloomington communities." They wanted people to see Africa outside of the media spotlight and to connect individuals in the US with individuals in Congo and show how each affects the other. They also desired to show the capacity of the Congolese people to take control of their own future, to show Americans that GBA's work would be a partnership, not a one-sided aid machine. Soon, the Giving Back to Africa Student Association (GBASA) was born to help fulfill these wishes.
As GBA grew, so did GBASA's events and activities. GBASA partnered with the PAID students and students at Binford Elementary for an art project. Students were given the same materials and the same assignment-- draw a picture and write something about yourself. The results were displayed at the Village Deli. This helped in aiding with GBASA's vision to connect individuals and to show that, despite cultural and environmental differences, everyone holds on to similar human characteristics and values. Another highlight was Kambale Musavali's, a Congolese activist, speech at IU. GBASA has also screened films, participated in the Lotus Blossoms Bazaar, and helped to plan and host benefits, like the Krista Detor Holiday Concert and this year's first annual spring benefit gala, Teach Me, Congo.
Both GBA and GBASA continue to plan new activities today, and both continue to grow! Why team up with GBASA? Dani pretty much sums it up--
"I grew as a leader, I interacted with incredible people from around the world, and I gained a set of skills I would have otherwise missed out on. This is a huge advantage to being involved with a smaller organization – that you can be involved on many levels. Take advantage of this opportunity and use it expand your own growth and learning!"