#YemziGirl Feature 22 (December) - Noëlla Coursaris Musunka, Mother, Wife, Model and Philanthropist from Democratic Republic of Congo
1. Please can you introduce yourself including your name...
Hi, I’m Noëlla Coursaris Musunka. I am a mother of two children, a wife, model, Founder of Malaika, a grassroots non-profit focused on girls’ education and empowerment in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ambassador for The Global Fund and a lover of life!
2. Tell us about the dream you are pursuing…
I created Malaika in 2007 as a way to move my country forward with regard to girls’ education and the individual strength that is born as a result, which leads to a more egalitarian and prosperous nation. I returned to the DRC when I was eighteen, after having been away for thirteen years as my father passed away when I was five, to visit my mother and reconnect with my country. I was struck by the gender disparity within the education system and the societal restraints that inhibited young women from achieving all that they wanted to do. I wanted to do my own part in changing this unfortunate reality by way of providing quality education, clean water, health and sports programs and infectious disease prevention projects. Every year we’re enrolling more girls at the Malaika School and expanding our impact on the community, so the dream is continuously becoming grander.
3. Apart from following your dreams how do you stay fulfilled?
First and foremost, my children fulfil me. My life with my husband and kids, is beyond words, but I also love my career as a model and the opportunities I’m given to speak at international conferences about gender and education. Malaika is an important part of how I feel fulfilled - between building and managing our school, which provides education at the highest standard to 275 girls, our community centre, and the eight wells that give access to clean drinking water to more than 16,000 people.
4. Which places do you call home and what do you love about those environments?
My primary home is in Cheltenham, England, with my family - the paramount reason I love it there - but I travel to the DRC often, which is another home for me. I was born there and no matter where I am, I take the country with me, but it’s even better when I’m physically there. I can visit with my Mom and spend time with the students, our wonderful staff and the community in general, since we also have a community centre with health, literacy and sports programs that has over 5,000 attendees per year.
5. Where are your happy places?
My happy places are when I’m spending time with my husband and kids, loving all the moments of being a family, being in the DRC working on the ground for the mission of Malaika and seeing firsthand the results of our work, and being in front of the camera as a model, which is an immensely fun and creative space for me.
6. What makes you a #YemziGirl?
I’m honoured to be referred to as such! I think Yemzi represents the overlap between tremendous imagination and African richness. Where forward-thinking, creativity and African female empowerment meet, I hope you can find me there. A #YemziGirl exists at that intersection.
7. Do you have a favourite Yemzi piece of clothing or collection?
The entire collection for Spring/Summer 2018 is beautiful, but my favourite is the off the SS16 shoulder pale orange dress. It’s a wonderful contrast of subdued, yet detailed in the flowy nature of the dress and the slits and cut of the ruffled top.
8. Are you more of a plain or printed type of girl?
I do like plain designs and their minimal effect, but I prefer prints. Bold, African prints are my favourite pieces because they’re incredibly beautiful and have a strength in the pride they represent and that I carry with me always.
9. Tell us more about your commendable non-profit girls school and some of the other philanthropic work that you do in Congo...
Malaika is grassroots organisation we started a decade ago. Our aim is to better the lives of young girls in the southeast region of the DRC and the regional population as well. A solid education begets more opportunities and an undiminishable sense of self-worth, which begets women who use the power they have as singular people to effect their families and communities. Societal expectations slowly shift upward when the demographic less-valued becomes a significant part of the driving force of a nation - and that all begins with education and good health. We created the school, which currently has 275 girls in attendance, but also built eight wells in the village, which provides thousands of residents with clean water, have given out 9,000 malaria nets and continuously strive to mitigate the burden of infectious disease. A sick student can’t attend school and it perpetuates the downward cycle of school attendance. The societal obstacles, early motherhood, lack of jobs and subsequent financial independence are enough to hinder female educational success; a preventative disease shouldn't be another concern.
10. You had a successful modelling career, at which point did you decide to become an education advocate?
Years ago, when I first returned to the DRC after having been away from the country for quite some time, I became passionate about education after seeing the wide margin between the education I was fortunate enough to receive in Europe and the school system and low attendance rate of girls in my home country. I wanted to actively do something, so I worked steadfastly until Malaika was created.
11. What do you find most gratifying about your work?
Our students’ success is the most gratifying aspect to our work. Most recently, our eldest class all graduated to the seventh grade and they will attend our newly constructed secondary school in the fall! They all took the national standard exam which evaluates educational quality and they scored remarkably high. Their ambitions, whether to become a pilot or journalist, make me so happy because there isn't a ceiling over their goals.
12. What is more of a challenge, being a mum or an advocate?
They’re challenging in different ways. I’m focused on educational success in both regards, but as a mother, I curate environments where my kids can evolve in every way, which requires a lot of managing. As an advocate, I’m looking at everything from a macro-level, which means the decisions impact thousands. As an Ambassador for The Global Fund, I’ve been provided a larger stage for my passion of improving health and education for children, and that is challenging in the most humbling way.
13. How do you find the balance between motherhood and humanitarian work?
When I’m with my kids, I focus on them. When they are at school or at activities, I shift it to my work. I am always available to my Malaika team, but I’m able to pay sole attention to my children when it’s time for homework, dinner or with anything else they need.
14. And finally, what is your favourite quote?
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” - Nelson Mandela
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