Teacher Learning Circles Aim to Strengthen Cross-Cultural Bridges, Scale Up Successes

Some say you learn by listening, others by teaching. The Noyau teachers are doing both!

The Noyau, the core group of teachers at College des Savior, have become involved in two different Teacher Learning Circles on two continents.

In one, the Noyau are getting to know a group of teachers from nearby Lukunga school in hopes of working with them to implement the learning model from College des Savior at Lukunga.

"Bridge" Over the River: Teaching Teamwork in the Classroom

GBA has the opportunity to work with some of the best teachers, whose consistent and faithful dedication to their students is reflected in their unique classroom techniques. Mr. Chancard recently used creative exercises to teach students about team work as part of the fourth lesson of the sustainability curriculum.

In the first exercise, he used benches to make a “bridge” over a river. He instructed the students to cross the bridge and to help each other along the way, making sure that everyone crossed. Not only did the students have to cross the “bridge,” without falling off, but they also had to do so in a way to end up in the same order in which they started. The students worked hard to support each other and eventually got all of the students across in the correct order.     

First order                                          

At the end

Reconciliation Game

The students also played a conflict resolution game to learn more about cooperation. Mr. Emmanual and Mr. Chanchard explained the game to two students and had the students work though the reconciliation process. Through this type on hands-on, innovative learning, students at College des Savior are receiving enriching educations.



GBA’s Program Committee Talks About the Importance the Details Make in Development

The GBA Program Committee has been talking a lot about dictionaries. At first glance, one might wonder why there’s so much chatter about the little books. But when we dive deeper, it’s easy to see how the discussion over dictionaries is an important reflection of GBA’s deliberate model of development. ***

One goal of GBA’s new curriculum module is for the students to start making vocabulary lists with words that pertain to sustainability. As Board Member Maria Brown explains, “They [the students] will essentially be making their own personal dictionaries.” Then the question of obtaining words for the dictionaries came up. Here in the US, we are able to look up words on our computers, phones, or tablets. However, in Kinshasa, these options are not readily available, and students would need physical dictionaries in order to look up words. Maria reports that the first thought was to just send dictionaries to DR Congo or buy them in Kinshasa. But alas, GBA’s intentional way of thinking and acting redirected the Program Committee to some potential pitfalls of this approach.

A concern emerged that the introduction of the dictionaries could be a bit disruptive within the community, as dictionaries are not a typical household item in Kinshasa. Thus, the Program Committee has been discussing how to best introduce the dictionaries to the students and teachers. Ann Marie Thomson, co-founder of GBA, commented on the dictionary discussion: "It's so easy for us to get dictionaries, but in DRC it is rare and people can make money off of them. How can we make this a learning opportunity AND how can we help the children also value WORDS?....it's one thing to bring dictionaries and hand them out, it's another thing to prepare students and teachers for creative ways to use dictionaries for the benefit of their own learning and understanding.” Anne Marie went on the explain that if she were living in the Mpasa community right now and didn’t understand the value of and uses for a dictionary, she would consider selling her dictionary in order to buy essential items. In the US, most of us face no dilemma between having a dictionary or having food, but in Mpasa, this is a real concern. That is why the dictionaries must be introduced with care and their value must be demonstrated.

It is these thoughts and questions that GBA constantly asks itself that makes it so unique. The asset-based approach to education is what creates real, lasting success—and sustainable solutions. “What I got from this is that EVERYTHING GBA does is done slowly and purposefully with care and intention, not just ‘plugging in’ an answer for a need, but looking at the long term implications,” Maria says. “I just don't think very many NGO's operate this way.”

The differences are in the details, and GBA vows to always examine even the most seemingly minute ones, like dictionaries. Stay tuned for updates on the dictionary discussion and other aspects of the new sustainability curriculum.

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.

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.

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.

The Noyau Field Trip and Angel’s Garden

The teachers at Centre Salisa who are learning the value of project-based learning through Giving Back to Africa’s process curriculum model call themselves the Noyau ('kernel' in French).  This phrase evokes the image of a seed that, when planted, will yield fruit. This is what Giving Back to Africa is doing – planting – and this year, the Noyau teachers (5th – 9th grades) and their students are benefiting from the fruit of knowledge they have gained about nutrition.  They have just completed 4 of the 5 lessons on nutrition and the Noyau are preparing to teach Lesson 5 soon, which is all about  helping their students apply their new found knowledge on nutrition to make a difference in their community of Mpasa. The teachers must start small and right where they are

In preparation for teaching lesson 5, the Noyau took a field trip this Saturday with Dr. Jerry, Giving Back to Africa’s Program Director.  They visited a large farm with gardens, a fishery, and animal husbandry all started by a man who has had polio since infancy.  Rather than let this terrible disease affect him, this remarkable young man applied himself and has a thriving business. Dr. Jerry also brought the teachers to his own home where they were able to see how Angel, Dr. Jerry’s wife, transformed their small compound with very little means.  These teachers must start small and right where they are, as Angel did.

With her own hands, Angel cleared a mess of weeds and rudiments of a poorly planted garden left by previous tenants. She prepared the soil for the planting of nutritional foods to foster healthy eating in her family (Dr. Jerry and Angel have five strong boys!).  Thanks to Angel’s perseverance, despite having little to work with, a wide range of local crops are beginning to yield food the family is eating. Not only did Angel cultivate the garden with care but she also saved a local tree, called a maracuja tree, that  has long been known to have medicinal qualities.


The Noyau took this trip to foster their awareness that with very little one can start with a vision and from there, with critical thinking and reflection, the vision can become a reality no matter where one starts.  THIS is assets-based servant leadership, the foundation of all of Giving Back to Africa’s work with the children at Centre Salisa.

The teachers completed guided field notes before, during, and after the field trip, notes that helped them apply the content of the nutrition modules they had just taught to what they were seeing in the real world. The guided field notes also challenged them to find linkages between the three curricula they have taught over the last 3 years on clean water, waste management, and now nutrition.  They reflected on how their teaching could offer the same opportunities around good nutrition that they had seen on the field trip to their own students and the community of Mpasa.  “What did we DO, SEE, and HEAR today,” the field note questions asked, “that we can also put into our lessons with students and what action steps can we take now?  How is this evidence of assets-based servant leadership?”

The Noyau will begin teaching Lesson 5 of the Nutrition Module next week.  This lesson will yield even more fruit as the children will benefit from the applied knowledge their teachers gained as a result of this field trip.  Angel’s garden will be a guiding vision for them!

farm2        farm3

Story supported by program committee skype meetings with Dr. Jerry Kindomba; Feb 6,2014.

The Noyau Give Back to their Colleagues

Giving Back to Africa’s assets-based servant leadership program focuses on the teachers and students of 5th through 9th grade. lsdkjfhOver the last three years, the Noyau, this cohort of teachers, have studied project-based learning, safe-classroom techniques, how to turn “right/wrong” questions into open-ended questions that foster curiosity and creativity, and how to work with their students in developing critical thinking and reflection skills.

Most amazing, however, is that the 1st – 4th grade teachers and students have been observing the dramatic change in their colleagues’ teaching styles and the degree to which they have begun to enjoy their work. They have watched the 5th – 9th graders present their annual Fete de Presentation and complete their various community service actions in the community.

This year, the Noyau decided they wanted to share all that they are learning with the other teachers at the school. This kind of professional collegiality is rare. All the teachers at Centre Salisa came together last Saturday to listen to the Noyau share their learning and to listen to teachers not directly involved in the program who had many questions.

All the teachers at Centre Salisa (even those not directly involved in GBA programs) came together last Saturday to listen to the Noyau.

The non-Noyau teachers discussed the current education system they see in Congolese schools. In general, they said “students are learning without motivation because of many factors, but [especially because] of the lack of care and attention from teachers, the large number of students in each classroom, and the fact that teachers are not highly motivated." They said this stood in stark contrast to what they were observing in the Noyau teachers and their students.

The Noyau teachers, they observed, “are applying new techniques to help students in the learning process…[the content] is rich [and] people can apply [this knowledge] at home.”

Mr. Pombo, the 6th grade teacher, described his experience this way: “What is capital is the fact [that] students [are] put at [the] center observing, listening and expressing freely. We are using [techniques] to stimulate students participation in the learning process and by some small experiences, they [have] discovered things they didn’t know first, even we, teachers didn’t know at first.”

d;jfThe Noyau and non-Noyau ended their meeting by agreeing that: the Noyau would take some time to explain nutrition concepts to the other teachers who will also be encouraged to observe the Noyau in their classrooms.

In this way, Giving Back to Africa is impacting the entire school; teachers and students are learning to think and act differently as a result.


Story, direct quotes, and pictures taken from Internal Report, Dr. Jerry Kindomba, Feb 2, 2014

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.


Community Service Action #2 Welcomes Students into Community Homes

We are excited to share the latest updates from our community service actions, or CSAs. CSAs are student-led projects that help students to share with the community what they've learned in school. CSAs also enable students to lead change to solve real community issues, such as improper waste disposal. In CSA #1, students went out into busy areas and picked up waste. Community members wondered what the students were doing and engaged with them in conversations about waste management. Read more about the CSAs and the philosophy behind them. Centre Salisa students preparing for the fete


Students started CSA #2, home visits, on the 2oth. Eighteen students and their teachers went out and visited twenty-six households in order to share news about how to properly handle waste. The students' work allows for safer community practices, shared information, increased self-confidence for the student leaders, and a chance to show how important an asset education is for everyone.

The day began with preparation and briefing in the classroom. Students practiced what they wanted to say, and the teachers led them in a simulation of a home visit.

Next, the groups went to the homes. Adults were amazed to see the children speaking with such self-confidence. Respect and hospitality abounded during the visits. Students reported that people were interested, kind, encouraging, and asked questions. Many had not know much information about waste management before the students' visit. Student Tshibola said the positive reaction was, "because we approached people with respect, greeting them, and explaining clearly the reason of the visit."

Additionally, Beya Beya explained the reason of the visit so well that one father listened diligently and then decided to separate biodegradable waste from non-biodegradable waste in his garden.

After the visits, students went back to school to reflect on their experiences. They are anxious to be able to continue the home visits! They will finish the home visits, then revisit families on August 3rd to follow up and invite them to the mini fete, CSA #3. At the mini fete, which will be on August 10th, the students will perform more skits, dances, and poems about waste management with hopes to reach even more community members. The students are also working on creating a map with clean water and waste management details that they can share with friends.

The mini fete will present lessons similar to those that were presented during April's fete. It will further emphasize the effects of an education and of proper waste treatment.  The students continue to work tirelessly to make these CSAs a success for all!