Liz Wepler to Raise $500 Donation Through Half Marathon

The leaves are crisp, the sun is setting sooner, and pumpkins dot porches around town. Autumn has arrived, and it’s the perfect time for a casual stroll around the park or the Farmer’s Market—or a half-marathon in Moab. At least, that’s what Liz Wepler is doing on November 2nd.

Liz, a SPEA graduate, is running the Moab Trail Half Marathon with a goal of raising $500 for GBA.

Liz heard about GBA during her time as a SPEA undergrad when she took co-founder Dr. Ann Marie Thomson’s class. She was interested in GBA’s approach to community development. “The service-learning (or now servant-leadership) components really spoke to something I was just beginning to value in my own life as well at the time,” says Liz. Ann Marie became a mentor to Liz, even after Liz moved away to Colorado.

In addition to raising $500 through the run, Liz recently became a monthly donor. She will match a portion of her donations for the run. “Last year I fundraised $500 as a part of a team for a Denver-based organization and realized that this is something that I could do for GBA as well.”

Liz has completed two half marathons, but this one is different in that it is a trail marathon, taking place on much less predictable terrain. She aims to just finish the race, but ideally finish it under 2.5 hours. Her training involves running 10 miles once a week with shorter runs interspersed throughout the week.

In her pre-run interview, Liz offered up her insight about GBA. “When you look into the dynamic and tumultuous history of DRC and the different models of community development that are being put into action, GBA is approaching development and addressing local community needs in the right way with both short term effects and long term impact in mind.”

Liz is modeling a sustainable form of community development herself—starting local to find solutions and using her talents and resources to reach extraordinary goals.


If you’d like to help Liz reach her goal, you can donate here—



We will keep you posted with updates. Good luck, Liz!

Morgan Scherer Welcomed Home After Trip of a Lifetime

After a summer of soul-searching, starry nights on the trail, and 500 miles worth of footprints made with DRC in mind, Morgan Scherer is home (and back to school!) in Bloomington! We want to thank and congratulate Morgan for his amazing accomplishment in serving our students and modeling leadership for us all! Here is Morgan's final blog post-

"I woke up early July 25th to climb Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Not only was this my last day on the trail, but it was also the reaching of my goal to walk 500 miles. As I flew up the short, but steep five miles to the top of the mountain, there was a surreal feeling that set in. I apprehended the lessons my hike taught me, several of which I am sure I do not even know about. I am excited to implement these valuable lessons in my life.

After the first step, the hardest step, with a million more to go, I realized Niko and I were on an adventure to find something. We didn’t quite know what that something was, but we were going to get it. I thought all along that this treasure we were on a search for rested at the end of the trail, like the rainbow’s pot of gold, but, surprisingly, when I got to the top of Mount Katahdin, nothing happened. I was not hit in the face with some spiritual awakening. I felt no change, only drooled over the view from the peak of the mountain.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Life is a journey, not a destination.” I sat on top of mountain vistas as well as next to valley streams to break from the tedious walking, but something always edged me on. I felt a strong urge to see what was on the other side of the mountain. We take each step to see more beauty that is out there in this massive and mysterious world. We cannot help but to take our lives on adventures.

As I am now walking from class to class at Bloomington High School North instead of from peak to peak in the Appalachian Mountains, I’m comfortable; almost too comfortable. My legs are restless as they twitch up and down while I sit at my desk with an anxiousness to go somewhere. Walking is not the fastest mode of transportation, but I saw this summer that it can get me where I want to go.

Harold Whitman said "Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." I love that I was able to convince people to give me money for walking. Your small check may feel worthless compared to the $10,000 of pledges, but every cent is creating a chance for the kids at Centre Salisa to come alive. Every kid should have the opportunity to fulfill their dreams, whether that be walking in the mountains or becoming a doctor. I believe that what we are giving to the kids, they will give back to Africa."


You are invited to welcome Morgan (and Niko!) home and celebrate their hike Sunday, August 18th, from 7-9 p.m. The party will be held at the Scherer's home-- 4811 N. Maple Grove Rd, Bloomington, IN, 47404. Desserts will be served.

Please RSVP to Morgan at 812-325-7229 or at morgan.d.scherer@gmail.com.

For pledges made to Giving Back to Africa on Morgan's behalf, please send the donation to Morgan's home address, listed above, or simply bring them to the party with you! Please make checks payable to Giving Back to Africa.

You can also hear Morgan speak at the gala on September 5th!


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!

Congo: Continue the Story Weaves Together Tales Across Continents

Congo: Continue the Story

Thursday,  September 5th, 2013, 6:30 p.m., The Clubhouse at the Fields

Registration is now open for our 2nd annual gala, Congo: Continue the Story, Empowering the next generation of African leaders! We get amazing stories to share when we bring our friends and volunteers in the US together with our leaders in DR Congo! Connect with us September 5th for inspiring stories about all our efforts.

Congo: Continue the Story benefit gala for Giving Back to Africa, September 5

The Clubhouse at the Fields, in Bloomington, is the place to be on Thursday, September 5th at 6:30 p.m.. We are excited to be collaborating with fashion blogger Jessica Quirk, of What I Wore, in order to bring you hand-picked fabrics and handcrafted clothing straight from Congo. One World Events & Catering is providing a delicious dinner fueled by seasonal and local ingredients, and we will also be serving beer from Cutters, which was founded in Bloomington, and Salt Creek Brewery, located in Bedford. Additionally, we are thrilled that Twin H Tree Farm and Nursery will be decorating with us again this year!

During the program, Project Manager Dr. Jerry Kindomba will speak with us, and we will hear from Morgan Scherer and other friends. We are hosting an auction as well, which will include "mystery" boxes, trinkets and treasures from the US and Congo, and special products and services from local Bloomington shops. All proceeds will go to continuing to support our students and teachers in DR Congo. Seats are limited, so register now!

Congo: Continue the Story celebrates stories and relives the highlights and accomplishments of the year. We will have the opportunity to share our stories with you, and we hope that by your attendance, you can share your story with us, too.

Register here for the gala! Contact events@givingbacktoafrica.org or call 812-340-6649 with questions.


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.

Bloomington teen’s Appalachian Trail trek to aid children in Congo

Morgan Scherer using trip to spur donations to Giving Back to Africa

By Dann Denny 331-4350
May 20, 2013 ddenny@heraldt.com
From the Herald Times Newspaper

Morgan Scherer, a junior at Bloomington High School North, plans to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail this summer to raise funds for Giving Back to Africa. Courtesy photo

Other than doing some leisurely strolling on grassy fairways as a member of the Bloomington High School North golf team, Morgan Scherer has not done any training for his six-week, 500-mile hiking trip along the Appalachian Trail this summer.

“I expect the mountains to kick my butt,” said the high school junior, referring to his journey that will begin June 15 in southwestern Vermont and conclude July 31 in northern Maine. “But by the end of my trip, I should be in pretty good shape.”

Scherer said during his entire trek, a fundraiser for a nonprofit called Giving Back to Africa, he will be accompanied by his 1-year-old dog, Niko — who will be outfitted with his own backpack filled with food and doggie treats. Family and friends will join Scherer for some segments of his trip.

He plans to wear gym shorts, light clothes and Patagonia boots during the day; and sweat pants, wool socks and a down jacket at night. If it storms, he will slip on a rain jacket and rain pants.

Scherer will buy two to five days of food at a time — cramming into his backpack things like pita bread, bagels, peanut butter, granola bars and dried fruit bars for lunch; and pasta and dehydrated meals for dinner.

He figures the entire expedition will cost about $1,000, which he will finance with money he’s earned as the caretaker of a 99-year-old woman.

“I’ll sleep most nights in shelters that are situated about every five miles, but if a shelter is crowded, I’ll spend the night outside in a tent,” he said. “Some nights, I’ll go into town and sleep in a hotel or hostel, and I hope to spend a few nights in what are called ‘huts,’ where they cook you breakfast and dinner. That would be high living. The huts charge you $100, but I’m hoping they let me stay there for free once I tell them I’m doing a fundraiser.”

Giving Back to Africa

Last year Scherer’s sister, who knew Morgan wanted to do some kind of nonprofit work, suggested he attend a meeting of the Giving Back to Africa Student Association at Indiana University.

“I went to the meeting and had a great time,” he said. “It was me and 20 cute college girls.”

But when he heard Anne Marie Thompson speak about Giving Back to Africa — a Bloomington-based nonprofit she cofounded that engages youth in the Democratic Republic of Congo in solving the major problems of their country — he knew he wanted to help.

“It’s awesome to see what they’re doing with youth in the Congo,” he said.

The money Scherer raises through his excursion will help support the Centre Salisa school and orphanage in the Congo. The school, founded in 2002, has nearly 250 students in grades 1-11, but the Giving Back to Africa program works with 70 students in grades 5-8.

The school teaches a standard curriculum of language, science and math along with some vocational skills, such as sewing. Teachers work Giving Back to Africa into the curriculum. The program trains students to target major community development problems — such as water use, hygienic hand washing, and waste management to prevent disease.

“I like knowing where the money is going and how it’s being used,” he said. “I have photos of the schoolkids on my wall at home. Some day, I hope to go the school myself and meet those kids.”

Those wishing to follow Scherer’s trip and support it financially can do so on his website — https://sites.google.com/site/hikeforcentresalisa. So far, he has received $340 in donations and pledges, totalling $6.68 per mile.

North’s Interact Club

Morgan Scherer is no stranger to service. As vice president of the Bloomington High School North Interact Club formed this school year, he has helped clean Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, do trail maintenance at Lake Lemon, and raise money for school-aged victims of Superstorm Sandy. The club’s mission is to participate in fun yet meaningful service projects.

Indiana University Students Model Leadership for Congo

The Giving Back to Africa Student Association (GBASA) at Indiana University hit the ground running in 2013 planning for its first annual spring benefit. “Teach Me, Congo,” hosted by The Pourhouse Café in Bloomington, Ind., on April 4, raised nearly $800 to aid Giving Back to Africa’s work at Centre Salisa. Sarah Baulac, director of special events for the School of Public and Environmental Affairs Undergraduate Student Association (SPEA USA), contacted Ann Marie Thomson at Giving Back to Africa about collaborating with GBASA on a project during the spring semester.

The movers and shakers of the IU GBASA and SPEAUSA © Benjamin Wiggins 2013 All rights reserved

With the help of volunteers from SPEA USA, the two organizations teamed up and divided into seven committees to plan the event.

The auctions and acquisitions committee worked to secure donations from Bloomington businesses to auction at the event, as well as to create handmade items from Congolese cloth to sell. The catering committee worked with two caterers to developed menus for both the benefit and the non-profit panel presented at SPEA on April 1.

Marketing, the biggest committee, secured advertisements and news coverage in local newspapers about the benefit. Members also created fliers for both events and distributed them across campus.

The hard work of committee members from both student associations paid off the night of the event. Attendees were treated to the music of student performers Square Peg Round Hole, the Afro-Cuban Ensemble and the Sam Hoffman Trio. Photos taken of and by students at Centre Salisa were printed and matted for a small photo exhibit hung at the Pourhouse Café.

“Teach Me, Congo” was a huge project for GBASA members, and it would not have been possible without the help of SPEA USA. In addition to raising money, the benefit increased awareness about the ways Giving Back to Africa fosters education in Mpasa II through project-based learning.

After the event, GBASA organized a call-out meeting for students interested in joining the student association. Students who learned about GBASA at the event, along with SPEA USA members who have decided to join the association, will continue to increase awareness about Giving Back to Africa through art and outreach events the following academic year.

Adding arrows to our quiver

Since last September, the Giving Back to Africa board of directors have been busy developing plans to grow and restructure the board. Strengthening the US-based group is important to better serve the needs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I believe this is among the most critical work we can do right now,” Executive Director Michael Valliant said. “Working through this strategy will help take us to the next level.”

The five-step plan includes recruiting new board and committee members to increase the capacity of the entire organization. The plan has led to the addition of two board members thus far.

Barbara Soria received a master’s degree in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University and a bachelor of arts degree from Purdue University. Barbara joined Capital Group Companies in 2008 and is currently in charge of Human Resources for the offices in Indianapolis, IN and Norfolk, VA.

Her role is focused on driving the leadership agenda around talent management and development, long-term forecasting, associate engagement, and diversity and inclusion. Barbara is also involved with volunteer work with several organizations, such as Junior Achievement of Central Indiana, for which she serves on the board.

jill-hundley-keeferThe second addition is Jill Hundley-Keefer. Jill has a formal education in journalism and teaching. She worked as a news reporter and teacher early in her career before transitioning to building online communities for hi-tech industries in Silicon Valley. Jill has spent the last seven years managing online communities and blogs for global companies such as Cisco Systems, Autodesk and Brocade Communications.

Jill also leads the enterprise social media governance model and marketing outreach programs. Her expertise has been used for partnership collaboration, thought leadership generation and dissemination, customer support, enterprise communities of practice, and non-profit organizing.

Lotus Blossoms Bazaar

"In the Spring of 2012, the Giving Back to Africa Student Association participated in the Lotus Blossoms Bazaar, a local event used to teach about multiculturalism from many different parts of the world, with the specific aim to educate local schoolchildren.  For our booth, we represented the Democratic Republic of the Congo by having the children make personalized bookmarks with bits of Congolese fabric.  Since the fabric is so colorful and eye-catching, they had a wonderful time designing their work and learning about the fabric’s origins.  One of our missions is community outreach, especially to children in order to broad their worldview.  We as GBASA loved participating in the Bazaar - it was a great first experience!" - Sarah McMahon  

"Most rewarding for me this semester was the Lotus Blossoms Bazaar. The GBASA worked together each week, meshing together each member's ideas and resources. We had so much fun in essentially surrounding ourselves with Congolese fabric and music. Lotus Blossoms volunteers enthusiastically complimented our table and activity. Most notable was the incredible enthusiasm the Bloomington students and adults had for the Congolese fabric. Often, students swarmed the table to learn about the fabrics and create their own bookmark. We chose to have them make bookmarks in order to encourage creativity, get them involved with this facet of the DRC, and give them something useful to keep. Reaching out to the community was so rewarding that before the Bazaar finished, it was agreed that we would like this to become a staple for our organization." - Natalie Graves

Krista Detor Concert with GBASA

Sarah McMahon from the GBA Student Association (GBASA) recalls her experience at the Krista Detor Concert:

In December 2011, Giving Back to Africa partnered with Krista Detor, famed vocalist, to raise money for GBA’s cause in a Winter Concert. The Giving Back to Africa Student Association had a wonderful time participating in the fundraising event as well! We opened our own booth and sold two different items: a 2012 calendar with images from PAID and also homemade greeting cards decorated with Congolese fabric. All of our proceeds went to GBA. It was such a rich experience, because we were able to put our energy and time into raising money for GBA to help assist their goals.

GBASA in action!