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Noëlla Coursaris Musunka is a well-known entrepreneur, model and passionated philanthropist fiercely proud of her African (Congolese) heritage. She was born in Congo but after her dad loss, at 5 years old she had to leave her mother and move to Europe with her relatives. It was tough but she was disciplined and driven, knowing that obtaining an education was her ticket to become an entrepreneur. After 13 years, she finally traveled back to her homeland in Congo, DRC, to meet her mother.
It was a major turning point, she witnessed the poverty and lack of opportunity for women in the country and she decided to dedicate her life to one mission. Make a change.
Noëlla fights to empower African girls through education at Malaika School.
How was to grow up as an African girl in Europe?
It was a culture shock for sure. Until the age of 5, I had grown up surrounded by African people, languages and art and when I arrived in Belgium everything seemed very alien to me. I felt very out of place at times but the experience helped me understand who I truly am today. It is what makes us different that makes us special – and this is something I’ve tried to pass on to my kids.
What obstacles have you faced in order to be who you are today?
I left the Congo with holes in my shoes and returned as an international model and entrepreneur, but it was a difficult journey that I had to take alone – during the 13 years I was away from my mother I spoke her on the phone just two or three times and there was no email back in those days. When you have nothing, you know that if you fall there’s no one to pick you up so I resolved very early on that I would study and work hard so that I could become independent.
What was the turning point for you… when was the moment you realized you wanted to do more and transformed your life?
Even as a little girl I understood that you needed an education in order to become who you wanted to, but it was when I returned to the DRC at 18 and witnessed the poor conditions my mother had been living in and and the number of kids that were out of school and severely malnourished that I resolved I would do something to help both her and other women and girls in the community. That was the pivotal moment when I realized just how crucial an education really is as a tool for self-empowerment.
As an African-Italian myself, I also would like in the future to create something valuable in Nigeria but then I think. Why is not the government worried about the prosperity of the country and the people? Is it the same in Congo?
Congo has a tumultuous history – 10 million Congolese were killed under the rule of King Leopold and 6 million during the conflicts over the last 20 years. As a nation, we have faced huge challenges to prosperity and the country needs to be rebuilt not only physically but emotionally. It’s important to hold our governments to account in order to create transformative change, but today there are as many as 3.5 million children not attending primary school who need help. I feel the need to do what I can to support a new generation of changemakers who will one day secure the future the country needs.
In 2007, Noëlla Coursaris Musunka founded Malaika, a nonprofit organization with one mission: to empower Congolese girls and their communities through health programs and education offered free of charge. Its projects include a school for 280 girls, a Community Center built in partnership with FIFA, which provides education, health and sports programming to approximately 7.000 youths and adults per year. Malaika also provide essential infrastructure development by building 9 wells that supply fresh water to 18.000 people, greatly reducing disease and illness and there are also plans for a clinic.
Noëlla, you achieved so much in these years. Is there still something you are dreaming of?
The next step for Malaika will be to have our eldest class take their education to the next level by attending university or technical school when they graduate from us in a few years. And my dreams don’t stop there – in my lifetime I hope to see a world where every boy and girl has an equal opportunity to become doctors, engineers, lawyers or even president! I think Malaika’s integrative model of health and education holds the power to transform communities all over Africa and beyond.
How is Malaika going so far? How do you see the future for these girls supported by your foundation?
Twelve years have passed since we opened the school and Malaika has been on quite the journey since then. We currently offer 314 students a holistic curriculum of STEM, information technology, health, civic education, and the arts and run a community centre which serves more than 7.000 people. There the local youth and adults attend vocational classes, play sports, and even take literacy courses. We have also provided 17 wells that over 30.000 people a year use on a daily basis, greatly reducing the risk of waterborne illness and disease. The future of the girls at Malaika is brighter every day because an educated girl will increase her future earnings up to 20% for every additional year of schooling she receives and have a positive impact in both her family and wider community.
What future do you see for Congo? What is your hope?
I hope to see more women holding key decision-making positions in the DRC. We have seen some progress but there is still a long way to go in this regard. I can feel a change coming and I think women will play a big part in that, including our students who will make their own impact in the future. Anyone who is interested in Malaika’s work can visit our website, malaika.org, for more information on how to donate or to get involved, or follow us on Facebook and Instagram @malaikaDRC.
The future is rapidly approaching and we must work together to secure a stronger DRC and world overall!
To support Malaika you need to know more about the foundation and the wonderful people behind it… take your time and discover all their amazing projects.
“An educated girl will increase her future earnings by approximately 10-20% for each additional year of schooling and will reinvest most of it back into her family and community. These are key factors in a nation’s socioeconomic development, and yet girls still face immense obstacles in obtaining an education in the DRC. At Malaika, we mobilize resources so that these girls can receive the best schooling possible, providing them with greater choices, opportunities, and the capacity to make informed decisions. Our goal is to build the leadership capacity of each individual student so that she gives back to her community, and has a positive, long-term impact on the future of the DRC. In essence, we are fueling a generation of change-agents. At the same time, we impact the surrounding community through recreational and life skills programming for adults and children, as well as essential infrastructure development.
With the exception of the locally hired Congolese teachers and support staff, Malaika is operated by pro bono experts and volunteers from the public and private sector.”
Discover more via www.malaika.org