Noella Coursaris Musunka was born to a Greek-Cypriot father and a Congolese mother in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Her life hasn’t been easy, and her hardships are what has inspired Noella to do all that she can to promote education for girls in her homeland, and to help them reach their fullest potential and escape poverty. Recently being invited to speak at the Concordia Summit in New York, the Greek-Congolese shared her amazing story.
When Noella was only 5-years-old, her father died suddenly, leaving her mother to care for her on her own. Since her mother had no education or resources to help her raise her child, Noella was sent to live with relatives in Europe. She didn’t have much communication with her mother as she grew up in Belgium and Switzerland, leaving young Noella to turn her focus to her education.
“When you have nothing, you know that if you fall there’s no one to pick you up. So you have to stand. I resolved very early on that I would study and work and be independent,” Noella explained on her website.
Thirteen years after having left the DRC, when she was a young adult, Noella finally returned to her homeland to meet her mother. While visiting, she witnessed first-hand the poverty and despair that she left behind as a child. She saw that there were little to no opportunities for young girls or grown women to escape poverty and decided to do something about it, someday, when she had a platform and resources to assist her cause.
She would find her platform sooner than she thought. Noella fell into the world of modeling after a friend of hers entered her into a modeling competition – which she won. What followed was a successful modeling career, taking Noella to great heights in the industry, such as modeling high-fashion in Vogue and Vanity Fair. But, more than anything, for the young women who never forgot where she came from, modeling gave her a platform to express her concern about human rights and promoting education for young girls in the DRC.
Geared with her voice and the global stage, Noella founded her non-profit organization, Malaika Foundation. Malaika means angel in Swahili and the organization aims to empower Congolese girls and their communities by promoting and encouraging educational and health awareness programs.
“In a way, Malaika is the story of me,” Noella said in a recent interview which was highlighted on her website. “The problem in Africa is that women’s education is not a priority. So when my father died my mother didn’t have enough education to earn money, so she couldn’t take care of me. She gave me away because she wanted to give me a chance.”
Other work her organization has contributed towards young girls and her community in the DRC is building a school for 280 girls and a Community Center where annually some 7,000 local youths and adults are learning through educational programs, as well as health and sports programs. Her latest project also includes taking on building 9 wells which will supply clean water to over 18,000 people.
Noella’s story continues…take a moment to meet the Greek Congolese model who is empowering girls in Africa: