GBA Launches CrowdRise Campaign to Develop Students’ Learning Garden

This year is a huge one for Giving Back to Africa! After three years of learning about topics ranging from to waste management to clean water, as well as applying these topics to work with the community, the students will mark the end of the Sustainability Curriculum with the creation of a students’ learning garden. This garden will not only help students to further integrate the lessons they’ve learned into a tangible, community-based project, but it will also facilitate the further exploration of passions related to agriculture and the environment. The students recently had the opportunity to visit a monastery and observe the various aspects of homesteading there. Participating in the planning and construction of the garden will continue to nurture the seeds of knowledge that the students have planted.

Additionally, the garden will serve as a community catalyst, bringing together community members to learn from demonstration gardens and to continue to build ties with the school and personal connections with the students. The development and maintenance of the garden will foster leadership and management skills, health education, and food security through the encouragement of home growing practices. This garden will have impacts that reach root-deep.

We need your help to make this garden a reality. Please join our CrowdRise campaign and make a donation towards supplies for the garden.  You can access the campaign by clicking here

We are currently looking to purchase the following:

·         Seedlings: $2,000

·         Hand trowels (48 at $5 each): $240

·         Shovels (10 at $20 each): $200

·         Wheelbarrows (5 at $80 each): $400

·         Compost (20 bags at $8 each): $160

·         Fence: $5,000


·         Total: $8,000

Just think, donating $20 could provide a shovel to help break ground on this exciting project! Please visit our CrowdRise page for more information and share the campaign link with friends and family. Thank you for your continued support!

Students observing and participating on a recent field trip to a local monestary

Students observing and participating on a recent field trip to a local monestary

Giving Up to Give Inspiration Profile: The Ramirez Family and Friends Hold Rice and Beans Dinner

Emily Ramirez, sister of GBA Board Member and GUTG founder Maria Brown, hosted a fun and influential rice and beans dinner to kick off GUTG in 2015. GBA recently had the chance to interview Emily about why and how she planned her dinner and what advice she has for others who are seeking to get involved. Emily herself got involved with GBA after Maria and her husband Kevin adopted their son Oliver from DR Congo in 2012. “Kevin and Maria have done an amazing job at staying involved in his birth country by learning about it and serving where able,” Emily says. “As they started learning more about GBA, Maria became increasingly passionate about the work that was being done and the lives that were being changed through them. Her passion spilled out into most of our conversations, which in turn made us desire to involve ourselves where able as well.”

GUTG was founded by Maria and her family in 2014, with the aim of supporting GBA’s work through everyday offerings. Emily’s rice and beans dinner and many other unique and thoughtful instances of giving were born out of this idea of personal connections and personal gifts. Emily explains what GUTG means: “The fundraiser was asking for others to sacrifice something once a month with the goal of giving the amount you saved through sacrificing to GBA. Being a family of four and on a tight budget, this practical way of giving fit us perfectly. We were able to come up with our creative way of giving as a family, in order for each one of us to be involved, and donate the money joyfully once we completed our ‘sacrifice’ for the month. As a way to pass on that joy, we decided to ask our community group to get involved in GUTG.”

The community group gathers for a delicious dinner with an impact!

Emily decided on a rice and beans dinner after seeing the idea on the GUTG blog, an event that had also previously done by Maria’s family. She and her family first hosted a rice and beans dinner last year and decided to reprise the event in 2015. “We shared this idea with our community group to get the creative juices flowing and sure enough someone in our group shouted out the idea to eat rice and beans altogether,” Emily remarks. “We all agreed this seemed like a more practical way for our entire group to get involved and complete the challenge. Our community group is always looking for ways to serve others, so it wasn't a hard idea to sell. We simply put a night on the calendar for us to come together at our house and share a rice and bean dinner together. We put a donation jar out in the middle of the table so everyone participating could donate the money they would have spent on dinner that evening if they hadn't chosen rice and beans instead. Rice and beans aren't only cheap but also extremely easy to make, so it wasn't a hard dinner to host in the least.”

“Last year our main goal was to involve our community group in giving to the Congo. However, this year our goals were a little different. We still wanted to collect donations, but we also wanted to inform our group more about GBA and the work they are doing in the Congo. We did this by skyping Maria during our time together and having her tell us about GBA. After talking with Maria, we took time to pray for the Congo and the children that are being ministered to through GBA. We not only walked away with more knowledge about The Congo and GBA, but our desire to serve this country grew stronger.” Emily reports that the event raised $81.64 for GBA. Emily encourages others to plan an event or activity that practices the idea of “Giving Up to Give.” She wants others to know that, “It is so easy and extremely rewarding!”

As for the future, Emily thinks there may be another rice and beans dinner on the horizon. Planning a rice and beans dinner, giving up a birthday gift, forgoing a daily coffee, and many other small intentional acts of giving back are all easy ways to benefit GBA and the children of College de Saviors. Invite a few friends to participate, get creative, and let us know what you come up with! Stay tuned for more GUTG ideas and profiles.

Giving Up to Give Has Amazing Inaugural Year, Prepares for Exciting Changes in 2015

This past year brought many new projects to GBA, including the nutrition curriculum, which combined with the Clean Water and Waste Management curriculum, and became the framework for our new multi-year sustainability curriculum. Other important additions include Katy Nielsen’s GBA documentary and a partnership with the inventive and inspirational Giving Up to Give (GUTG). GUTG was founded by Maria Brown and her family. Their son, Oliver, is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Maria met GBA co-founder Ann Marie Thomson in 2012 and sought to take on an active role in GBA; she is now a board member.

The Brown family

In an interview with Maria Brown last year, she explained the rationale behind GUTG:

“Some friends of ours were beginning the adoption process and were fundraising. We saw them selling things that they owned in order to raise the money they needed to adopt. We wanted to help, but we didn’t have much extra money to give. We did have a few things we didn’t have to have, so we sold them. In just a few days (and with minimal effort) we had $100 to donate. That got us thinking about how much excess we have and how our small “giving up” can make a big difference, while also making us more purposeful in our giving.”

The Browns thought that this idea of giving up could be applied to GBA. GUTG is designed to be both a fundraiser and a network of creativity and support. “The ultimate goal is to connect people to what is happening in DRC and to the children at College des Savior, and to help us all realize that we don’t just have to give out of our excess (or lack of it)–we can sacrifice, and in doing so connect ourselves more intimately with other human beings halfway around the world,” Maria added. She encourages people to think about the ripple effect of their positive actions and to think about the boundary-less principles of generosity and love. To read more from the interview, click here.

Over the course of 2014, individuals, families, and groups came together to brainstorm unique ways in which giving up something in their lives could benefit someone else’s. From replacing usual meals with rice and beans to donating a birthday presents, GUTG never ceases to come up with resourceful ideas to make giving a part of daily life. By the year’s end, GUTG raised $5341.07 and made countless connections between peoples’ lives.

Giving Up to Give will continue, stronger than ever, in 2015. It will be getting a makeover, including a revamped name, to be announced soon, and a calendar on the GBA website, where you will be able to track all of the giving activities. For now, you can view GUTG at http://givinguptogive.blogspot.com/. We hope that you will consider supporting GBA through Giving Up to Give. If you need inspiration on what to give or how to get started, look no further than this website.  Starting soon, we will be posting profiles of events and people participating in GUTG, highlighting fun and challenging giving ideas that you can incorporate into your own life.

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.

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!

Behind the Scenes of Giving Up to Give: An Interview with Maria Brown

Perhaps one of the most exciting parts about nonprofit work is the collaborations that grow out of shared passions. For GBA, the recent partnership with Giving Up to Give’s Maria Brown, her family, and their community, has demonstrated both the power of personal connection and the joy of creative and communal giving. Curious about the Browns, their story, and the future of Giving Up to Give, I decided to dive in and find out more. For background on the Giving Up to Give blog and giving campaign, please click here (will link to previous blog post). Giving up to Give focuses on the part of DR Congo that most people don’t see—the smiles and dreams of the people that live there. Instead of giving to an image of DR Congo entrenched in suffering and civil conflict, Giving Up to Give aims to have people give while viewing the life and positivity of the Congolese people.

The Brown family, a Kentucky family of five, created Giving Up to Give; their son, Oliver, is Congolese. After doing research about the conflict in Congo, and after meeting GBA co-founder Ann Marie Thomson, the Browns were inspired to get involved with GBA’s work.

Maria Brown met Ann Marie at the annual benefit gala in 2012 and continued building the relationship. Maria says that the formulation of Giving Up to Give began, in part, with an experience the family had with friends.

Maria writes, “Some friends of ours were beginning the adoption process and were fundraising. We saw them selling things that they owned in order to raise the money they needed to adopt. We wanted to help, but we didn't have much extra money to give. We did have a few things we didn't have to have, so we sold them. In just a few days (and with minimal effort) we had $100 to donate. That got us thinking about how much excess we have and how our small "giving up" can make a big difference, while also making us more purposeful in our giving.”

The Browns thought that this idea of giving up could be applied to GBA. Through conversations with Ann Marie, Jim Calli, and Beth Yoder, the Browns turned their idea into a reality. Maria says that Beth thought of the calendar idea and helped with starting up the website.

Maria notes, though, that Giving Up to Give is designed to be more than just a fundraiser. “The ultimate goal is to connect people to what is happening in DRC and to the children at Centre Salisa, and to help us all realize that we don't just have to give out of our excess (or lack of it)--we can sacrifice, and in doing so connect ourselves more intimately with other human beings halfway around the world,” Maria writes. She encourages people to think about the ripple effect of their positive actions and to think about the boundary-less principles of generosity and love. She reminds us all that we are connected to DR Congo at almost all times—through our cell phones and other electronics and the conflict minerals used to create them.

The Browns and the network of Giving Up to Give offers lessons that everyone can relate to: “Every country has a story, and more importantly, every person has a story, and we need to listen. In a world that is increasingly smaller and more connected through the internet, we can no longer claim ignorance about the poverty, suffering, and injustice that is happening in so many different countries to so many different people. Being aware is the first step towards being a part of change and hope. And what we find when we listen to the story of DRC, of children at Centre Salisa, and of so many people around the world, is that they are not just a cause to give to or a terrible story to cry over--they are signs of hope and resilience and they are lessons of strength for us all.”

As for the future of Giving Up to Give and the children of DR Congo, life is bright, despite the inexplicable nature of poverty and cruelty in the world today. Maria hopes that the 2014 Giving Up to Give calendar can be filled with an act of giving for each day. She also hopes that the movement will continue to grow and move into new communities and can continue to raise awareness for DR Congo. GBA welcomed Maria as a new Board Member earlier this year.

“I hope that the students and teachers at Centre Salisa will be encouraged that a group of people who don't know them are supporting them,” she concludes. Of course, they’re supporting all of us too, as members of this ever-connected human family.

Thank you, Giving Up to Give for your valuable work!


If you would like to learn more about Giving Up to Give or commit to giving up something in 2014, please visit givinguptogive.info.

Get Involved!: Dare Me For Charity Presents a Whole New Approach to Fundraising

Are you looking for a new, fun way to get involved with GBA this summer? Dare Me For Charity just may be the event for you! Dare Me For Charity is a reality television show that is sweeping across the US this summer. It’s ushering in a whole new way to think about how we can support our favorite nonprofits.

Dare Me For Charity shows that any asset you have—even if it’s a love of rollercoasters and adrenaline rushes—can make a huge difference for an organization in your community. The goal of the show is this: to connect nonprofits and their supporters in order to raise money through extreme (but safe!) obstacles and jumps.

Participants in Dare Me For Charity's events literally jump from higher and higher heights for their charity of choice. Teams will have multiple opportunities to perform in challenges for their organizations, all while raising awareness about the organization on national television.

Do you think you have what it takes to be a part of GBA’s Dare Me for Charity team?

For more information, check out the main website (http://dareme4charity.com/) and the Indy event site (http://dareme4charity.com/campaign/list/city/23).

Dare Me For Charity is coming to Indianapolis on Fridauy, July 25th. A fifteen-dollar registration fee gets you three jumps for GBA!

If you're interested, be sure to register before space fills up! We’d love to see families, students—anyone—come out for this unique and charitable event!

"Beta Histoire: I Want to Tell a Story" Event Brings Together Friends Both New and Old to Support GBA

  By all measures of the word, “Beta Histoire: I Want to Tell a Story” was a success. Not only did the event display thoughtful artwork, but it also highlighted a universal drive—the drive and passion to share perspectives.

A sampling of the photos displayed at the event, submitted by students in Monroe County and DRC

When we express ourselves, whether it be through art, sport, everyday life routines, or any other medium, we project part of our story out into the world—where it then collides with millions of others. The “Beta Histoire” event and gallery seek to remind us that, in spite of our long days, embarrassing moments, and miles ahead to go, every story is beautiful, and every story is part of the larger picture of humanity. For though it is critical to acknowledge and work with our differences, it is equally imperative to celebrate our commonalities.

This event connected students from GBASA, the GBA Board, staff, and volunteers, supporters, students and families in Monroe County and DR Congo, educators, advocates, and friends for the purpose of honoring the talents and views of young people. Patrick O’Meara gave a moving speech about the “ripple effects” of even the smallest positive actions. GBA Co-founder Ann Marie Thomson and Executive Director Dena Hawes also spoke. Attendees were invited to share their “story” on a fabric square. These will be turned into a quilt. Over $2oo was raised to support GBA!

GBA co-founder Ann Marie Thomson speaks at the event

The message of the night is clear: when we come to understand our common ground, we understand the enormous reach and potential we have—not just as a nonprofit organization in Bloomington, Indiana, but as a community-shaping partner both here and abroad. With our combined passions, resources, and action, we continue to ripple the positive impacts of education and service leadership into all harbors.

Sometimes all we need to remind us of the simple joy of being part of the human family is a great story told by a willing imagination.

Thank you for your stories.


Giving Back to Africa would like to thank the Giving Back to Africa Student Association for its efforts, as well as the IU Art Museum, Patrick O’Meara, Fogarty and Friends Trio, and everyone who participated in the event.

If you’d like to learn more about GBA and our events, please follow us on Twitter @GBAfrica or connect with us on Facebook.

Also, keep an eye out for information regarding our upcoming annual gala. Details will be announced soon.


Photos courtesy of David Crosman