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.

Stay up-to-date with the latest GBA news by subscribing to our free newsletter. You can also follow us on Facebook or on Twitter @GBAfrica. Check out our website at for ways to get involved

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 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.

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 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.

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

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 ( and the Indy event site (

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 

You're Invited to the "Beta Histoire: I Want to Tell a Story" Kickoff

You are invited to come and celebrate the threads that tie us all together! GBA and the GBA Student Association has partnered with the IU Art Museum to showcase student photography from both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Monroe County students. The exhibit, “Beta Histoire: I Want to Tell a Story,” brings together art from home and abroad in order to share the stories of all kinds of young lives and to help young artists to foster their talents and explore international perspectives. The exhibit kickoff is on Thursday April 3rd from 6-8 p.m. at the IU Art Museum. The evening will include guest speaker VP Emeritus Patrick O’Meara and musical guests jazz group Fogarty and Friends Trio. We will also have DRC-inspired items and prints of the students’ photos available for a suggested donation.

Please join us!


For more information, see the Giving Back to Africa Student Association Facebook page--


 WHO: Giving Back to Africa and you!

WHAT: Exhibit opening for “Beta Histoire: I Want to Tell a Story”

WHEN: Thursday, April 3rd, 6-8 p.m.

WHERE: IU Art Museum

WHY: To celebrate the artistic expression of youth in DRC and Monroe County and to lift up their shared experiences 

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

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!