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. The Greek-Congolese woman shared her amazing story recently, when she spoke at the Concordia Summit in New York City.
Her father died suddenly when Noella was only 5 years old, leaving her mother to care for her on her own. Since her mother had no education or resources to raise her child, Noella was sent to live with relatives in Europe. Noella didn’t have much communication with her mother while she grew up in Belgium and Switzerland, leaving the young girl to turn her focus to 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, as a young adult, Noella finally returned to her homeland to meet her mother. While visiting, she witnessed firsthand 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 she decided to do something about it, someday, when she had a platform and resources to help in 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 woman who never forgot where she came from, modeling gave her a platform to express her concerns about human rights and promoting education for young girls in the DRC.
Armed with her influence on the global stage, Noella founded her non-profit organization, the Malaika Foundation, which aims to empower Congolese girls and their communities by promoting and encouraging educational and health awareness programs. Malaika means “angel” in Swahili.
“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 accomplished for young girls and her home district of the DRC is building a school for 280 girls as well as a Community Center where annually some 7,000 local youths and adults take part in educational, health and sports programs. Her latest project includes taking on the building of 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: