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Katy Nielsen’s GBA Documentary Shows DR Congo’s Many Undocumented, Beautiful Side

This year at the gala, we premiered Katy Nielsen's documentary about GBA. We wanted to ask Katy a few questions about her inspiration behind the film and what message she hopes to convey. ***

Katy Nielsen and GBA share a knack that not many can claim: an affinity for storytelling. When Katy was asked to make a documentary with GBA earlier this year, it became clear that a whole new and rarely-told story was in the works.

Katy films the marching band at the fete de presentation celebration

After obtaining her undergraduate degree at Trinity College, Katy worked in Chicago for the Columbia Chronicle newspaper and discovered many formats and forums for storytelling. While working as the Health and Fitness Editor, and also as the on-camera personality, at the Chronicle, she also discovered that she could tell more of a story in a video than she could on paper. She went back to school for an MA in Broadcast Journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and focused on documentary filmmaking while she was there. Later, she started working with nonprofit organizations, producing videos for galas to encourage and promote more robust fundraising.

Katy knows GBA founders Jim Calli and Ann Marie Thomson through her parents, who are friends of the founders and are actively involved in GBA. Jim and Ann Marie approached Katy about the idea of making a film about GBA. Katy had been on an African safari a few years prior, and after the experience, she knew it was her “dream to make a film in Africa someday.” Her opportunity knocked quicker than imagined, and, in March of 2014, Katy travelled to DR Congo with GBA Executive Director, Dena Hawes, Ann Marie Thomson, and Jabu Africa founder Sarah Castor in order to shoot footage. It was her first time doing long-form film on her own and with her own camera, and it was an experience that was beyond rewarding.

The fete de presentation was a highlight of the trip

Katy’s filmmaking philosophy is people-driven. She doesn’t want to be on camera in any way-- even to narrate; she believes that people tell the story better themselves. “I was amazed by the power of the people,” she says of Congo. Katy hopes that her film can help to change peoples’ perceptions of the country. For while there is much suffering there, there is also so much life, and that life is not often accurately portrayed by other western nonprofits that work there.

GBA’s approach to working in Congo is unique, not only in its service-learning based curriculum, but also in its use of community asset mapping in its program model. The community has much to offer to GBA, from its unparalleled hospitality, to its rich culture, to its stark natural beauty. There’s more than just starvation-- there’s freedom, joy, and hope, too.

Katy and GBA strive to make this clear to audiences in the US. “They’re not showing people smiling,” Katy says of other media representations of Congo. “In the US, you could just show the south side of Chicago, but that wouldn’t tell the whole US story,” she explains. There’s a real need to dig in deeper.

 

The curiosity and helpfulness of the locals made this easy for Katy to do during her trip. When she was filming, Katy says that the whole town came over to watch. The crowd was amazed by the skills of the students. Katy told student Beya Beya, “you’re a leader in your town. Stay strong.”

Katy conducted fifteen interviews during the trip, with a goal in mind of using lots of voices to tell one story-- reflective of the many different stories and voices that make GBA what it is today. Katy views developing GBA’s work as akin to that of growing a garden; it takes time. Many other nonprofits rush in to the area and want immediate change and immediate results. However, GBA takes slow, deliberate steps and a long-term approach, walking with and listening to the people whom they serve. GBA is “so special, so different,” remarks Katy. “I think it’s the right way to do it.” Good work is “just like making a film,” she says. “It doesn’t happen right away.”

To watch Katy's documentary about GBA, click here.

Katy interviews Mr. Pombo

 

Please also consider donating to GBA so that we may continue serving the people of DRC through our asset-based, service learning curriculum.

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What’s up next for Katy and GBA? Katy hopes to go back to DR Congo in a few years and re-interview the kids in the film to see where their dreams have led them. In the mean time, Katy will continue to make films. She currently works for Make It Better, producing short videos to instruct the audience in various topics. She may also be working on a film in the near future about women and birth control rights in Illinois.

Giving Back to Africa Student Association: Connecting Students to Students

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!"

 

For more information on the GBASA, you can email gba@indiana.edu and join the GBASA Facebook group. We look forward to seeing what kinds of creative and inspiring actions the students will lead this year!

Follow Morgan Scherer During his Appalachian Trail Journey

Updates on Morgan's trip! Morgan has completed more than 400 miles of the Appalachian Trail! We feel overwhelmed with appreciation for his accomplishments and your continuing support. Read about his best friend Niko and his mother's perspective on his blog.

Giving Back to Africa's founder Ann Marie Thompson spoke about Morgan's journey: "We can choose to be connected to children across the world because the truth is, we really are!  We share the same planet and our own humanity." We believe this to be an important truth motivating our work in DR Congo. Empowered youth change themselves and their communities.

Morgan is set to raise nearly $8000 for our students! How amazing would it be if we could get that number to $10,000? Donate here!

Morgan Begins His Hike

Most kids spend summer vacation close to home with the occasional vacation or trip to camp-- not Morgan Scherer. This Bloomington High School North student is taking on the Appalachian Trail this summer.  Plus, he's doing it for a cause he cares about; Morgan's raising funds per mile for our students.  

Morgan became involved with us after attending a meeting of the Giving Back to Africa Student Association at Indiana University. He quickly realized that he wanted to be a part of the organization, and he will continue to work with us in the fall.

Morgan will hike for 500 miles over the course of six weeks; he started June 15th. He is taking donations and mile pledges. So far he has raised nearly $14 per mile in pledges. That is close to $7000 raised for the students!

These funds will continue to help and inspire our students thousands of miles away at Centre Salisa in DR Congo. Morgan is an outstanding role model for the students and for our community, demonstrating genuine leadership.

Whether you've been following Morgan's journey or are just now learning about him, we wanted to provide you with a comprehensive resource guide to learn about and track Morgan's progress this summer. We wish him the best!

 Read about Morgan and how he got involved, here. 

 Check out updates from Morgan, see his miles hiked, and learn how you can help!

Bloom Magazine article about Morgan

 **If you want to follow Morgan in real time, click here.

Giving Back to Africa Gets Social

It's time to expand our community reach this summer! Our Executive Director, Board, and summer interns are working to employ a new social media strategy that will enable us to share our programs, background, news, events, and stories with supporters in Bloomington, DR Congo, and everywhere in between. We plan to update social media sites multiple times per day and write several weekly blog posts.

By widening the scope of our social media use, more people will be able to engage with the Congolese child leaders as they work to improve their lives and their community. We hope you will join us in local, national, and international conversations about youth development, education, service-based learning, DR Congo, and more.

Connect with us through Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin, as well as the website/blog.

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