Special Events

Loyola University Field Trip Yields Composting Inspiration for Students

At the end of May, College des Savior students and staff visited Loyola University of Congo to learn more about composting, which is a central component of the sustainability curriculum and the Students’ Learning Garden. The group started off with a presentation from Giving Back to Africa (GBA) Project Manager Dr. Jerry Kindomba about the model of student-centered leadership and service learning used at College des Savior. The attendees were impressed with the students’ strong performance with their curricula, which they then saw in action at a hands-on composting demonstration.

Observing the composting presentation

Observing the composting presentation

At the composting site visit, the workshop facilitators, two teachers and an engineer, asked the students about agriculture and general knowledge topics and were amazed by how much the students already knew. The students felt right at home with the subject matter and tone of the lessons. Dr. Jerry remarked that: “The students were not disoriented by the language of these two professors. The richness of the vocabulary lessons taught in the various modules helped them to be comfortable communicating with the professors. They asked their own questions as well and the teachers appreciated this .”

Students taking notes, garnering the nickname "little scientists," for the day

Students taking notes, garnering the nickname "little scientists," for the day

However, they also added to their rich knowledge base by learning more about the scientific process behind composting, like how larvae and worms assist in the composting process, and what plants make up a good batch of compost. The facilitators led a hands-on composting demonstration for the students.They enjoyed seeing students take notes and referred to them as “little scientists.” Professor Pululu, of Loyola, remarked that: “The students have impressed me positively because they have carried out an extraordinary scientific approach by first asking questions and seeing how they can bring about solutions by making a composter.” This reflects the asset-based, community-driven learning model that the students guide at College des Savior.

Planting the cacao tree together

Planting the cacao tree together

Student Ntumba Nadege watering the cacao tree

Student Ntumba Nadege watering the cacao tree

The group ended their visit by planting and tending to a cacao tree together. Both the Loyola staff and the College des Savior staff and students acknowledged that only through community support had this trip been made possible and that it was a great opportunity for future resources as the students progress with their sustainability projects. One of the Loyola facilitators even encouraged the students to try out their own composting experiments back home in small groups and offered to help set up a composter at the school after students do initial research about what makes good compost in their area.

The students were eager to get home and apply their new skills. Beya Beya said: “I enjoyed their composter, their way of working as a team. They are really well organized. When I come to study here in Technique after Secondary School, I will see again this tree that we planted.” Teachers and parents agreed, praising Loyola’s hospitality and the progress in making community connections. Teacher Mr. Chancard also noted his appreciation of “...the humility of the teachers and the love of the professors who have abundantly occupied themselves to give their precious time to the students…”

Upon their return to school, students led a presentation for fellow students who had been unable to attend the field trip and began to master their newly-learned information by teaching it to others. Teachers and staff also met with a Loyola representative the following week, beginning plans for a bright partnership between the two institutions committed to community and student-focused education.

When​ ​Shovels​ ​and​ ​Love​ ​Become​ ​Assets:​ ​The​ ​Deep-Reaching​ ​Roots​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Students’​ ​Learning Garden 

Colorful crops, interactive school lessons, and a community gathering space-- the Students’ Learning Garden is becoming a reality. Students and teachers, with input from staff and community members, have been hard at work for many months planning, researching, and now executing the project. From visits to homesteading operations to performing skits about waste management, students have combined life lessons with academic skills in preparation for the culmination of their three-year Sustainability Curriculum. At the end of February, they sprung into the next step in the process by purchasing gardening tools.

Students and teachers look for the right tools at the market

Students and teachers look for the right tools at the market


But these items are more than just shovels and spades-- they're “assets to organize our garden,” remarked student Noella. Selecting the tools at the market was an exciting experience for all, and students noted that organizing the garden will take wisdom, courage, love, intelligence, leadership, and humility. These intangible qualities serve as assets as well that bind the students together to achieve their common goal. When asked who benefits from the garden, the students’ answer was simple: “Everyone.” And who owns it? “Students, teachers, and the community.”

Another asset the students have been leveraging? Homemade dictionaries. The unique study guides are full of sustainability-related terms to apply to the garden. Below, the students write and practice their definitions. Combining the power of words and actions, the College des Savior students are putting all of their assets towards the end goal of a thriving Learning Garden.

Students work on building their dictionaries

Students work on building their dictionaries


Get to Know GBA's 2015 Gala, Congo: Continue the Story in the Garden

Giving Back to Africa is thrilled to announce its 2015 gala, Congo: Continue the Story in the Garden! The gala will be held at the Clubhouse at the Fields on Sunday, August 30th, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. We will have cocktails, heavy appetizers, an auction, and an African market. In order to purchase tickets online, please click here. The gala is a tradition for GBA, one that we look forward to each year. We invite you to share in our appreciation to our donors and supporters and celebrate together as we review this year's accomplishments and look towards the future. Our theme of the garden ties in with our current curriculum, focused on teaching the students about sustainability. This curriculum incorporates lessons learned from previous curriculum on water, waste management, and nutrition, and will culminate in the creation of a Student's Learning Garden.

Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter (@GBAfrica) for updates on the gala, reminders, and new information about vendors, auction items, and more!

If you have questions about the gala or would like to learn more, please contact us at 812-340-6649.

GBA Engages with Indiana University Students at Roundtable Event

The event took place at Foster Quad at IU GBA recently had the opportunity to do one of its favorite things: interact with the Bloomington community!

On November 3rd, Bloomington-based nonprofit Books and Beyond hosted a Roundtable on Service and Non-Profits in Sub-Saharan Africa. GBA, along with Books and Beyond (Rwanda), Building Tomorrow at IU (Uganda) and Play 360 (Tanzania, Kenya), met with students and other members of the IU community and presented about their missions and work.

Panelists discuss their work in Sub-Saharan Africa


GBA Executive Director Dena Hawes spoke of GBA’s experiences in DR Congo and recent initiatives there. Dena and the Giving Back to Africa Student Association (GBASA) were also on hand to answer questions, network, and sell a variety of African fabrics, curios, and handmade cards.

GBA is thrilled to be a part of its communities in both Bloomington and DR Congo and thanks Books and Beyond for hosting the event.


For information on how you can get more involved with GBA, check out this page.

Global Gifts Community Shopping Night: November 25th

The holidays are now just around the corner! At Global Gifts, on one special night, you can shop for unique, fair trade treasures and donate to GBA just by making your purchase! On Tuesday, November 25, from 5-8 pm, at the Bloomington location, Global Gifts is hosting a Community Shopping Night. Ten percent of of the proceeds from the night will go to funding GBA's programs.

We are incredibly grateful to Global Gifts for including us in this event. We hope to see you on the 25th!

** Global Gifts's fair trade products include jewelry, scarves, toys, decorations, and more. There are four locations: one in Bloomington, two in Indianapolis, and one in Columbus, Ohio. Visit their website to learn more at globalgiftsft.com. The Bloomington Global Gifts is located at 122 N. Walnut Street on the square in downtown.

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.


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.

Savoring the Magic of Congo: Continue the Story in Song, GBA's 2014 Gala

Jim Calli, GBA Board member, displays photographs from DR Congo After over nine months of planning and careful crafting, the 2014 annual gala, Congo: Continue the Story in Song, took flight on Thursday, September 4th, in Bloomington. With the help of diligent and dedicated volunteers, staff, donors, and friends, working on projects ranging from auction procurement to invitation design, we were able to pull off our best gala yet.

At the gala, we enjoyed betting on silent auction items, mingling with new and old friends, listening to talks by GBA leaders, and taking in the authentic African music of Sweet Posion. Our African Marketplace was even more diverse than last year, and our appetizers and dinner were exceptional. We were all wowed by the premiere of a documentary from Katy Nielsen, who shot footage and conducted interviews in DR Congo while with GBA leaders on a trip there in March. You can view the documentary by clicking here. Overall, the variety of activities, the warm environment, and the beautiful stories that came together at the event made for a night to remember.

Dr. Jerry Kindomba, Project Manager, talks with us about his vision and work in DR Congo

Executive Director Dena Hawes shares with us part of her GBA story


We want to extend our immense gratitude to all who helped with and attended the event. We raised more funds this year than last, and we are excited to see these proceeds be transformed into programming for our students. We hope that you will keep journeying with us as we move into the end of 2014 and beyond.

To stay connected with us, you can find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @GBAfrica, or sign up for our free newsletter. Also be sure to check back on the website for new blog posts and updates. Please also consider sharing our donation link with your friends and family or volunteering you time or resources to help out. We look forward to working with you!

Keep reading to see some photos from the night. You can view a whole album of photos on our Facebook page.

We were rocking the night away to the sounds of Sweet Poison

The decorations made the tables almost too pretty to sit at

Unique photos from Congo lined the walls

Guest bags were ready to go as the evening began

New and old friends alike came together for the gala




Dare Me For Charity Event Combines Compassion and Action, Draws Closer

The Indianapolis Dare Me for Charity event is now only about a month away! On Friday, July 25th, our GBA team, led by intern Patrick Gower, will make leaps of great heights in order to win community support and funds for GBA.

Dare Me For Charity is a reality television/extreme adventure charity event where participants jump from various heights of platforms in order to earn distance points for their team. Each team member gets three jumps from the main jump tower, and the team with the highest total amount of distance jumped at the end of the event will win $1,000.

The jumps will be made from a platform that Patrick describes as a cherry picker. The platform is adjustable, with a maximum height of 40 feet—the highest that any individual is allowed to jump. However, participants can jump from any height they want that is below 40 feet, and they do not have to jump at any designated height.

What's great about this opportunity is that you don’t have to be an extreme sports lover to participate in the event! The airbag below the platform is 11 feet high, so even if you make all of your jumps from 15 feet, you’re still earning 15 feet for the team’s total distance while only really falling 4 feet. Any jump will help GBA’s chances of earning the grand prize. Anyone is welcome to join the team or to come and support us the day of the event!

The event will be held at Washington Square, in Indianapolis, on July 25th at 9:30 a.m. All teams must arrive for training at 8 a.m. The team will be carpooling from Bloomington to Indianapolis (a one hour trip). Anyone wishing to join the carpool can contact Patrick or GBA’s Executive Director, Dena Hawes (director@givingbacktoafrica.org).

As of June 20th, we have six jumpers (that's 18 jumps!), but we are hoping to add even more to the team! It’s not too late to register. Please go to the Dare Me For Charity website link below and click on Indianapolis. Search for our team, titled “Empowering Youth Leaders to Change their Reality in DRC,” and click on our page. On the page, you will see a link to register to jump with us.

For registration: http://dareme4charity.com/campaign/list

For questions, please contact Patrick at pagower@umail.iu.edu

We will see you on July 25th!