Noëlla Coursaris Musunka’s career has bloomed from top model to now a philanthropist with her mission to empower girls in Congo via her Malaika Foundation.
The First time we met Noella was back in 2008 when we did her first Exclusive Interview with ADUNAGOW Magazine (Link here). The goal was to talk about her amazing career in Modeling, but we quickly realized that there was more about her than just the beauty displayed outside: she is a woman with a dream and determination that many would consider impossible to achieve. Yet, she did it. Watching Noella's Malaika Foundation blossom to what it is now has been simply an inspiration.
To really enjoy the latest interview below, please take the time to read her FIRST INTERVIEW in order to see how she has made her dream a reality!
"UNDER 15 MINUTES INTERVIEW" with Nöella Coursaris Musunka
Photos courtesy of Malaika Foundation.
[AM]: Congratulations on winning the 2021 World Literacy Foundation Award! What did this achievement mean to you and the Malaika Foundation?[Nöella]: It means so much to us and fills me and the team with a great deal of pride and joy. We believe education is a human right and there are millions of children across the world who don’t know how to read and write. The majority of those children are girls. To have our work acknowledged and celebrated is hugely rewarding but also exciting as hopefully, it will enable our reach and impact to increase, allowing more children to access education.
The Malaika model is a community-driven ecosystem that can be duplicated in any context, and we want to see many more Malaikas created globally to empower more communities through education and health programs.
[AM]: How would you describe the Malaika Foundation in One word? And Why?[Nöella]: Empowerment. We are not looking to give a short-term handout, we are equipping people to be their own changemakers. Our 400 girls are in a leadership school that has a holistic curriculum including STEM, art, theatre, and music and they take part in girl scouts. We are equipping the community through our community center, teaching literacy and numeracy, and vocational skills to over 5000 youth and adults. As well as social cohesion and health through our sport for development programs.
We are seeing some of them starting businesses and earning an income through the skills they’ve learned at our center. We have agriculture and this provides the skills for the community to generate food stability. These are sustainable and long-term solutions that will help the people help themselves and they have so much potential, ingenuity, and determination.
[AM]: Would you consider Malaika Foundation as your greatest achievement to date? Why? Why not?[Nöella]: Well, my two children are my greatest achievement but outside of my family, Malaika is for sure my greatest achievement. Seeing the students change during their time at our school is so wonderful to see. The mostly Congolese team on the ground is doing a fantastic job and also seeing them equipped and developing in their roles and skills is brilliant too.
Malaika is a unique community-driven ecosystem that can be duplicated in other contexts and this is a big part of why I’m proud of what we achieved. Soon many more people will benefit from what we’ve built in the DRC.
We have managed to help with many needs beyond education, including access to water. We built and refurbished 23 wells ensuring 32,000 people can get safe and clean water without traveling miles and miles.
[AM]: What's in the near future for the foundation? What is the latest development and needs?[Nöella]: We are looking forward to celebrating 15 years of impact this year. We have plans to expand our community center and the vocational courses we are offering.
We are also looking to strengthen our current programs and curriculum in the school. We want to offer a quality education that equips our students with the skills they need to succeed in the modern world with all its technology.
We’re excited and nearly ready to release our Malaika model toolkit, which will serve as a blueprint other organizations and communities can use to serve their populations’ needs, with support from our team, in a way that is customized to their own unique contexts.
[AM]: What help or support does the DR Congo youth need right now and why?[Nöella]: Young people in the Congo are often marginalized, uneducated, and lacking in the skills and knowledge needed to keep themselves healthy and to develop themselves, and gain opportunities to have successful futures.
There are very few educational institutions that serve this age group and many don’t finish secondary school for various reasons, meaning higher education is way out of reach even if their family could afford it, which is rare. There is a great need for young adults to gain skills to set up their own businesses and generate a sustainable income.
We teach numeracy and literacy and entrepreneurship in our community center as well as vocational training in skills such as sewing. We also have agriculture and as well as growing food for the school canteen we are using it as an opportunity to teach farming skills.
[AM]: How would you describe yourself in One word? Why?[Nöella]: Hopeful. I always believe we can make things better. I see the good in people and places and imagine a positive future. When we share pictures of Malaika they are always positive because we want to inspire people that they can bring a smile to others and change someone’s life through their contributions to our work.
[AM]: What motivates you every day?[Nöella]: My two children, JJ and Cara, I want to model to them being a hard worker, giving back to others, and empowering people who have fewer opportunities.
Also the people in Kalebuka. They have taught me so much through their resilience and kindness. Seeing the girls develop in their knowledge and abilities as well as physically and emotionally motivates me to keep working and keep pushing for more for them.
Consulate wants to be a photographer and journalist, Anna a pilot, Chantal wants to be a writer, and Louise an IT engineer.
Without Malaika, these careers would be out of reach but now the girls have big aspirations not only for themselves but for the impact they can have on their own community. I work entirely voluntarily for Malaika, and seeing the impact we are having is my motivation.
[AM]: Best/Favorite music you are currently listening to right now? And why?[Nöella]: I love listening to African music and listening to a variety of African artists. I love the vibrancy and energy of African music, it reminds me of visiting the Congo where the people are often dancing and enjoying music. I am so proud of my heritage and celebrate African culture at every opportunity.
[AM]: Thank you Noella for taking the time to share your time with AM readers. We wish you and the Malaika Foundation success!
FOLLOW NOELLA and the MALAIKA FOUNDATION on social media:
FB & Linkedin: @Noella Coursaris Musunka
All channels: @MalaikaDRC
Malaika is a nonprofit organization empowering girls and their communities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through education and health programs.
Founded in 2007, Malaika has grown into an all-encompassing ecosystem, impacting thousands of lives each year through its four core programs, all of which are offered for free to the entire community:
- School - The Malaika School provides an accredited, holistic primary and secondary education to 400 girls. Taught in French and English, its STEAM-focused curriculum includes coding, music, theater, sport and art, ensuring that students are equipped with a 21st century education.
- Community Center - Malaika’s community center, partially built in partnership with FIFA, offers extensive programming, including literacy, vocational education, sports/football and health classes to more than 5,000 youth and adults, providing life-changing opportunities for the community at large.
- Water - Malaika has built or refurbished 23 wells, providing clean, safe drinking water at central locations to more than 32,000 individuals each year.
- Nutrition - Malaika’s agricultural program, grows organic food on campus, providing students and staff with two healthy meals each day, creating employment opportunities and serving as a platform to educate the community about sustainable farming practices.
These programs, all of which are community-driven and locally-led, symbiotically work together as a replicable model, which can be customized to other communities and organizations throughout Africa and the world.
Noëlla Coursaris Musunka, a Congolese/ Cypriot international model and philanthropist, founded Malaika in the village of Kalebuka near her birthplace in southeastern DRC, an area which previously had little or no access to electricity, clean water, education facilities, healthcare or technology. She is a leading voice for the power of girls’ education. Malaika is also proud and honored to have won a 2021 World Literacy Award.
Through collaboration, partnerships, talks and events worldwide, Noëlla actively shares her experience and insights she has gained through working with the Malaika team with organizations and individuals looking to make change, from the World Economic Forum to universities such as Harvard, MIT and Oxford. In addition to receiving an award from the House of Mandela at the Nelson Mandela centenary celebration, she was named one of the BBC’s 100 Most Influential & Inspirational Women of the Year in 2017. Most recently, Noëlla was featured in Facebook’s 2021 ‘LeadHERS: Life Lessons From African Women’ book spotlighting 19 female leaders across Africa who are breaking boundaries and positively impacting society.
To learn more about Malaika’s work in DRC for nearly 15 years, read recent articles in Financial Times, The Telegraph and Marie Claire and watch a recent video about our programs here, this beautiful piece about our impact and our feature episode on Forbes 8.