Meet Noëlla Coursaris Musunka – game changer and philanthropist

Widely recognised as one of the world’s most inspirational women, Noëlla Coursaris Musunka is the founder of Malaika, a grassroots non-profit that works to educate and empower girls and their communities in her home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Through Malaika, founded in 2007, Noëlla has built an accredited school providing education for 314 Congolese girls, and has established a community centre offering literacy, health, sports, and vocational programs, free of charge. She has also implemented a clean water program, which has built and refurbished 17 wells to supply fresh water to over 30,000 people each year.

In 2017, she was named one of the BBC’s 100 Most Influential and Inspirational Women of the Year, and at the recent 100 Years of Mandela Ceremony, she received an award bestowed by Mandela’s daughter.

Noella, share a bit about your background and how you came to be involved in so many multi-faceted development and change programmes?

I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but was sent to Europe after my father passed when I was five to live with relatives and receive an education.

I returned when I was eighteen and was overcome by the conditions my mother and others in the village lived in and how many girls were kept out of school that I decided to make a change. The driving force behind our work at Malaika is our ethos of being the change we want to see in Africa.

Tell us more about Malaika, how it came about and your involvement?

Malaika is a grassroots non-profit that focuses on education, health and community-building. Our school offers a holistic curriculum for 314 girls who would likely otherwise not receive an education, and combats gender inequality in schooling that permeates through all other aspects in life.

We also have a community centre with sports and vocational programs for numerous families, seventeen water wells that provide clean water for over 30,000 people and an infirmary at our school for routine student check-ups.

You have spoken at a number of highly prestigious events around the globe – share about that, and how it contributes to your incredible cause?

As the founder of Malaika and an ambassador for The Global Fund, I’m often invited to speak internationally on childhood education and health. I’ve spoken at various events, but most recently at the Mandela family’s gala honouring the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

I’ve spoken alongside former US President Bill Clinton and Princess Caroline of Hanover, and attended events hosted by the Gates Foundation, WISE and the Global Citizen Forum. I enjoy meeting like-minded, progressive educators and leaders, building connections for Malaika and learning about innovative initiatives that have made an impact in childhood education worldwide.

Congratulations on your award from the Mandela 100 Global Citizen Foundation – share that moment with us.

To be honoured by the family of such an illustrious individual who changed the world and valued the power of education was tremendous. It was amazing to be invited by the Mandela family, to spend so much time with them and to receive the award from Dr Maki Mandela.

She introduced me as part of the family and said that her father would have loved to see his legacy going through people like me — this was a special moment. Seeing our work at Malaika recognised at such an event was incredible as well. We’ve worked so hard these past eleven years, and it’s been a journey with many challenges but equally beautiful stories.

Books or movies – and why?

I read a lot of books with my children, and my daughter loves ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ book. I prefer reading to watching movies as books encourage their imagination.

Bucket list travel destination – and why?

Zanzibar. I recently saw photos of the beaches and they look spectacular! I would love to spend time exploring their culture and making sandcastles with my kids!

What is the one thing that scares you the most, and how do you overcome that fear?

Once I became a mother, I found that I was fearful of any significant disappointments in the lives of my children. I fight this by raising them to be strong and resilient so that any obstacle that presents itself in their lives can be overcome.

Favourite item of clothing right now – and why?

My favourite item is my Christian Louboutin bag with the word ​​Love ​​ written on it because it’s a beautifully designed bag with a simple yet strong message – one that promotes the most powerful emotion.

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