Giving Back to Africa Announces En Classe Partnership

Giving Back to Africa believes in fostering education through an asset-based and service learning-based approach to development. Working with local organizations is a critical component of this, as we are able to work together with partnering schools and organizations to nurture the exchange of resources and expertise. We believe in the power of making connections and providing a platform for personal storytelling. En Classe

Giving Back to Africa is excited to announce that it is now in partnership with En Classe. GBA partners with En Classe’s Lukunga Primary and Secondary School in Kinshasa. En Classe’s mission is to improve education and to build brighter futures for thousands of Congolese children. It is a Dutch foundation and was founded in 2007. En Classe works from the ground up with its partner schools to help transform the schools and the environments surrounding them. En Classe is currently working in 25 schools in Kinshasa.

Other Giving Back to Africa partnerships include: College des Saviors, Rivers of the World, Rotary Club Gombe, one of seven Rotary Clubs in Kinshasa, and Rotary Club Bloomington, IN, and the Protestant University of Congo. We look forward to continuing our partnering work with all of these organizations in 2015.

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Defining Sustainability: Taking a Community Approach to the New Sustainability Curriculum

A few months ago, we introduced you to our new curriculum model for 2014-2017,  focused on sustainability and the ultimate creation of a Children's Learning Garden. This model will incorporate lessons learned in previous years about clean water, waste management, and nutrition. Students, teachers, and community members will expand upon knowledge gained and apply their skills to each phase of the garden-building project, drawing from their resources within themselves and the community before reaching out to obtain others. The teachers realize that becoming a more sustainable community will involve flexibility and experimentation, and they are eager to work on the modules. They have faith that the community will embrace sustainability, as the teachers themselves, the student families, and many households have already began to use their sustainability knowledge at home. The teachers and the students will work to encourage and guide community members who become confused, embarrassed, or discouraged in the face of change.

Dena Hawes, Executive Director, with students

However, before the sustainability model can truly begin, the GBA teacher team in DR Congo must create a working definition of what sustainability means to them. Dr. Jerry has been brainstorming the idea with GBA’s Program Committee. Each member of the committee offered insight into some components of sustainability, including the idea of providing for future generations, and the concepts of interconnectedness, re-using, service, and sharing.

“Maybe it's that you CAN create something from what appears at first to be nothing,” Linnea Stifler muses. Something that initially appears to be worn out or too damaged to use can be transformed to have an entirely renewed purpose; a different perspective is often needed in order to frame an issue or item in a new light.

While physical resources are often important, the Program Committee also points out that resources don’t always have to be tangible to create a beautiful end product. Dr. Jerry notes that “…you need resources like imagination, love, faith,...and from nothing, you can create something.”

Along with the Program Committee, the teachers have also been working to define sustainability. In order to facilitate an inclusive definition, each person contributes their thoughts; like patches in a quilt, their definition of sustainability is comprised of many stories and voices. The incorporation of many voices in essential in creating an atmosphere in which all people at the school feel comfortable to participate and have ownership in the final products of the model.

Mr. Pombo describes sustainability as “a strong hand with five fingers that work in unity.”  Some teachers focused on sustainability in natural matters, like examples of water and trees, while others focused on examples of lifestyles and learning. “Sustainability would look like a teacher who improves himself by acquiring new teaching methods,” Denise shared.

New teacher Chancard illustrated the sustainability of a teacher-student relationship. “Sustainability would look like a student who repeats his teacher’s sentence.” Keeping with the “quilt” style of building on the definition, Mado added “…who repeats his Teacher’s sentence with his own words.”

Other teachers agreed and added their own perspectives. Dr. Jerry concluded by saying that the example of a student-teacher relationship demonstrates sustainability because the student eventually becomes not afraid to modify his or her teachers’ thoughts and express his or her own reflections or opinions. The student is comfortable in learning, sharing knowledge, and interacting with teachers and adults. This creates a learning environment that is conducive for the growth and exchange of ideas, which in itself is sustainable, and can also help to foster new solutions for recurrent problems.

The students and teachers alike are learning. They continually encourage each other to make sustainable daily life choices and to keep working on the sustainability model, even when obstacles arise. In one recent exercise, Dr. Jerry had the teachers write letters to themselves picturing what the future will look like in 2019, five years after the start of the sustainability model. This kind of visualization provides inspiration for the teachers as to what they can help accomplish at College des Savior.

Indeed, a forward-thinking approach like this is one that lies at the core of GBA’s programs and philosophy. With an orientation towards long-term success, community assets and leaders, a willingness to share our stories and knowledge with others, and a commitment to sustainability, we are confident that not only will we begin building a garden in 2017, but we will also have built thousands of personal connections, skills, and life experiences along the way.

Please join us in this exciting next chapter of our work. Stay up-to-date with our newsletter and blog, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and consider donating your talents, time, or resources to the program. Your support makes a difference in the education of the students, the teachers, and the entire community.

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.

Dr. Jerry Kindomba, Project Manager, to Embrace U.S. Trip, Speak at Gala

Dr. Jerry Kindomba, Project Manager Dr. Jerry Kindomba, Project Manager in DR Congo, is ready to visit the capital of Hoosier nation! Dr. Jerry arrives in the United States on August 20th and will stay until September 15th. Dr. Jerry will be busy making appearances, giving talks, and engaging with our supporters across the country, as well as sightseeing! Register for the gala on September 5th to hear Jerry speak about the past year at Centre Salisa.

Dr. Jerry is a Congolese medical doctor who is very familiar with community development. He worked with a USAID project to improve Congolese healthcare before working with us. Dr. Jerry spearheads curriculum development for our shining students at Centre Salisa. Jerry and his wife have five boys.

Dr. Jerry's almost one month trip is Bloomington-based, but he will also be meeting with supporters in Washington D.C., Indianapolis, and Michigan. He is meeting with numerous organizations, including the George Malaika Foundation, the Global Fund for Children, the Bloomington-based Project School, and Sunrise Rotary. He will also be on the Noon Edition Radio Program, a WFIU program, on September 6th.

Dr. Jerry's appearances and talks help to continue to raise awareness for the educational dilemmas in DR Congo, our work in Mpasa, and what next steps are needed. His efforts allow both new and old friends to support student leadership in DR Congo.


Educational Values Lead to Educational Action in DR Congo

Co-founder Ann Marie, left, was born and raised in DR Congo “We agree that quality in education is the right of every child, regardless of gender, and that every child should have equal access to education that places the child at the center of all learning.” Co-founder Ann Marie Thomson sums up what education means to us.

In a recent letter, Ann Marie writes of our educational values and how they relate to the structuring of our program. “We see children and the environments in which they live as integrally related. That is why the first step in our process curriculum deliberately focuses on trust-building— listening, observing, gathering information, and sitting with community members and children, learning what matters to them and how they feel about their community life… children are the greatest asset any community has; investment in the education of children is the most sustainable way to bring about long-term positive social change.” Our program offers platforms for students, but the students are the ones who create real change.

Ann Marie also highlights a few key aspects of our curriculum and how it creates quality education in DR Congo. First, we focus on experiential learning, engaging, rather than just lecturing. Authentic learning and student engagement are integral for the success of any student. We also value higher level critical thinking and life skills that students can use and apply to situations in their communities and at home. Students often formulate and lead projects in the community, reinforcing what they have learned while also tackling community issues, such as water and waste management. Read more about these service learning projects!

Additionally, intensive teacher training ensures the best learning time for both our staff and students; it also ensures that students can learn in a safe classroom. Education is linked explicitly to environment, as Ann Marie writes, and safety and comfort are a huge part of that. We take the time to make sure that teachers and students both are comfortable in the classroom by training teachers in trust-building and having them put themselves in the shoes of their students.

Lastly, evaluation and reflection and forming partnerships are vital, sustainable practices for us. The only way to assess impact, gather feedback, and anticipate next steps is through introspection and serious evaluation and reflection of ourselves and our program, and evaluation from the teachers, students, and community. Moreover, partnerships with other organizations help us to expand our efforts and those of the other area nonprofits, as well as provide the community with means to meet its other basic needs apart from education, such as clean water and healthcare.

Our educational philosophy is continually revisited, refined, and ignited with educational action. As we do this, we invite you to partner with us, too.

Using Skits and Celebration, Students Put Centre Salisa “On the Map”

Students map painters in front of the water map of Mpasa Last year students created a large scale map of the water sources in their community and it became the focal point of their school grounds. Now, students are preparing to educate their family, friends, and government officials about a new area of focus – waste management.

Using skits, presentations, and story-telling, students will “teach back” about waste management through the Fete de Presentation slated for Saturday, April 18. In advance of the event, one parent shared the following, “I’m very happy to see the school clean and tidy and the wonderful demonstrations done by students.” Families and local officials will undoubtedly be impressed by the knowledge and conviction students portray through their interactive presentations. Students will continue to put their hard work and knowledge “on the map” in the Kinshasa area. Laughter, bands, and refreshments will also mark the day, but there is more to the story than this one-day celebration.

Centre Salisa students preparing for the feteFor more than four months, teachers at PAID have participated in Saturday trainings on project-based learning, shifting their methods from memorization-based learning to open-ended questioning. Students have also shifted their approach to learning, using the problems and opportunities of their local environment to learn the science, math, and language principles needed to understand waste management in DR Congo.

This weekend marks the culmination of much dedicated effort from both students and staff. Community members will learn about the challenges associated with waste management and have an opportunity to join the discussion about opportunities for improvement. Looking ahead, students will take these ideas and turn them into action. Stay tuned for more updates on the Community Service Actions likely targeting the disposal, re-use, and long term health aspects of waste management practices.

Gift of Bins Help Students Manage Waste

Katie McDaniel, of the Love More Foundation, Dr. Jerry Kindomba, Giving Back to Africa Program Manager, and Danielle Anderson, of DRC Adoption Services. Dr. Jerry Kindomba recently welcomed Katie McDaniel of the Love More Foundation and Danielle Anderson, former Giving Back to Africa DRC administrator, to Centre Salisa to see the progress of our student leaders.  Katie and Danielle donated important tools to facilitate student learning, waste bins.

The students will use the bins when they teach their community about waste management, as part of the second module of Giving Back to Africa’s Leadership Development curriculum.  In the first module, students in upper elementary and early secondary levels studied the problem of Clean Water in their community of Mpasa II, outside the city of Kinshasa in the DR Congo; they presented their learning to their classmates, parents and community members in a Fête de Présentation, and went on to develop and implement Community Service Actions around proper hand-washing technique.

Now, these students have undertaken an exploration of the problem of Solid Waste Management, and after a set of lessons on the waste stream and waste cycles, recycling and reuse, the students are preparing a new Fête de Présentation, aimed at encouraging proper waste management at school, at home and in the community.


Katie and Danielle gave money to purchase color-coded bins, which figure large in the songs and skits being prepared for the Fête. The goal of Giving Back to Africa is to develop student leadership in finding local solutions to local problems, but also to serve as a partner which can support these solutions with supplemental resources. Thank you to all of you who are part of this endeavor.

Clean Water Curriculum Conclusion

This article appeared in our July 2012 newsletter.  It describes the Clean Water Curriculum, the first module of lessons teaching Congolese youth at Centre Salisa to become student leaders Many of us have had the experience of meaningful education, learning something that is truly practical and useful in our every day lives. Real world learning can drive home meaning in ways that book learning cannot. And when that real world learning is linked to something we use every day and can improve and perhaps even save lives? Even better.

As part of Giving Back to Africa’s 5-year commitment to Centre Salisa the teachers and students at the Centre are experiencing a form of learning that is linking their education directly to the needs of their families and the larger community that they live in. The project that kicked off this groundbreaking approach to learning is The Clean Water Project. As part of GBA’s new curriculum for leadership development, The Clean Water Project was initiated this spring with two teacher training programs—one on the philosophy and purpose of community-based education and the other on the clean water curriculum.

The students and teachers at Centre Salisa needed to go no further than their front doors to find material for their curriculum. Imagine waking up each morning and not knowing if you will be able to find clean, safe water. Many people in Mpasa II face this sobering reality on a daily basis. Mpasa II lacks a water system to supply water to its citizens and features poor water pumps, little water storage and the widespread reuse of household water that has been exposed to infectious contamination. Outside lesson plans were not necessary—the teachers themselves designed and implemented a curriculum around the critical subject of clean water based on the issues they knew intimately. The project started by focusing on sources of clean water, the routing of water, hygiene, use and care of water. Students enjoyed classes on using water for hygiene, cooking and maintaining a clean and safe environment for water and for the benefit of the community. Next, the students learned the science and skills needed to prevent waterborne disease. Eager to connect what they were learning at the Centre with their daily lives, the students designed and built a hand-washing device in order to demonstrate water purity and good hand-washing techniques. In two days of direct outreach the students reached over 200 people with this valuable information.

Additional reports from the project include teachers who have influenced behaviors in their own households, and a mother of a 6th grade student who sent a letter to the school noting that her daughter has caused the family to change its hand-washing practices. Students met with elders in their community for discussions about water and are taking care of the wells and water points close to them by cleaning them regularly. A colorful mural designed by the students now hangs on the wall at the Centre marking all wells and river sources of water used by the community. Contributions were also coordinated in order to buy effective cleaning supplies and build additional wells in the Mpasa II community.

GBA leveraged local resources by partnering with organizations such as Rivers of the World to expand the reach of the Clean Water Project. The well in Mpasa II that was closest to Centre Salisa had been broken for a year, resulting in a 3-mile round trip on foot to the nearest water source. The well was repaired with the help of Rivers of the World, and a local church helped to dig two more wells in Mpasa II.

The impact of the clean water curriculum has been unexpectedly wide. Parents in Mpasa II often do not see the value of education for their children and as a result large numbers of children are not sent to school. Yet when a parent hears their child sharing knowledge about staying healthy and the importance of clean water the parent can tie the child’s education to the family’s daily life. Other side benefits of the community service water projects were boosts to the children’s self-esteem, and the practical application of the 5 leadership skills the students have learned during their time at Centre Salisa.

The final link in the clean water project chain was a public “fete de presentation” by the students through song, art, skits and a “Clean Water Café.” Over 400 people from the Mpasa community enjoyed the presentation including representatives from the Ministry of Health.

The students and teachers know that water really is life, but they also proved that together people and water can provide a means to life-saving education and understanding.

Water is running at PAID!!

We are celebrating the return of a working well at the PAID orphanage!  On May 25th we received news that a well digging crew fixed the well.  The uncapped well pipe gushed muddy water into the PAID compound.  People flocked to collect water even before the well head was in place.

Over a period of several months Jackson Babese, PAID President and Omba, Rivers of the World representative in DRC, worked together, assessing the condition of the well and resolving problems.  Rivers of the World originally installed the well, three years ago, and provided money for this repair!  The perseverance has paid off.

A maintenance agreement between PAID and the Mpasa II community will ensure that money is available to maintain and repair the well if it breaks.  The agreement sets a minimal price for a liter of water.  The receipts will be placed in an account for future access.

Giving Back to Africa facilitated the conversations between Rivers of the World (ROW) and PAID as part of our bridging role. Recognizing that we may have greater

access to organizations that can assist PAID, we worked with Jimmy Shafe, Rivers of the World Congo-Kasai chapter.  This project shows an alternative to the traditional method of providing development assistance, where support comes from an international organization only.  In this case, PAID, Rivers of the World and Giving Back to Africa combined their capacities to bring badly needed water to a needy community.

Previous post about the well

See more photos

Partnership in action: fixing the well, bringing water to PAID

There will soon be water at PAID!  Rivers of the World will pay to fix the well at PAID. Acquiring water in the Mpasa II community is a daily chore.  How can you possibly articulate the sounds of the early morning (5am) when the older orphans (about 6 of them, boys and girls) wake up before dawn to help Mama Eliza and Mama Bebe carry the 5 to 20 liter bottles and buckets to the well 2-3 km away?

India mark II pump

In 2008, Giving Back to Africa connected PAID with Rivers of the World (ROW) to dig a well in the PAID compound.  For a while the well provided ready water for PAID and the community.  A small fee charged for each bottle went into a fund to cover inevitable well maintenance and repair.  The well was a blessing... until it broke.

And now Jerry, our Project Manager tells us that Jackson and Omba (ROW representative in DRC) have made connections and that the money has come through from ROW and the well will be fixed!  The perseverance has paid off.  GBA was able to faciliate the conversations between ROW and PAID!  That is part of our bridging role.

A maintenance agreement will ensure the well will continue operating.  Stay tuned for pictures.  We can't wait until we see that flowing water again! What a blessing that will be!