My name is Noella Coursaris Musunka and I am an international model and founder of Malaika, a non-profit organization that is based in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I lead Malaika at every level on a voluntary basis. I am a philanthropist and ambassador for The Global Fund to fight against AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and I am dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of educating girls and empowering communities across the globe.
When we first set up Malaika in 2007, Kalebuka was a difficult context in which to start a foundation. There is no infrastructure, no running water, and no electricity. It is a rural village in sub-Saharan Africa, a place not far from where I was born. At the age of five, my father passed away suddenly and my mother could not afford to keep me. She sent me to live with relatives in Europe so I would have more opportunities, such as gaining an education.
When I returned to the Congo at age 18, I was shocked by the living conditions of my mother and by the fact that so many children were out of school. At that moment, I recognized the difference between my life and the lives of these children. I wanted to do something to enable these beautiful people to access what I believe to be a right for all people; education and opportunity.
At the heart of Malaika is the belief that communities need to be empowered to elevate themselves in a long-term, sustainable way. From the outset, we knew that unless the community could embrace the importance of girls’ education, we would not see as many girls enter our school and receive the education they deserve. We also knew we needed to address other barriers that were affecting local people and frustrating their development.
Thirteen years on, we have built a community-driven ecosystem that can be duplicated in other contexts. We have a school that educates more than 350 girls with a holistic curriculum that includes STEM, art, music, and physical education, as well as an emphasis on developing their leadership skills. We are equipping future change-makers to give back to their communities and their country.
Furthermore, we have addressed issues relating to health and the infrastructure of the rural village of Kalebuka to ensure we are empowering the community to access the education we are offering. This includes not only girls but also youth and adults at our community center. We have built or refurbished 20 wells to provide clean water to 35,000 people and supplied 11,000 malaria nets. When school is in session, we’re able to monitor our students’ health. We lost three dear girls during the COVID-19 lockdown, whose memories we continue to honor. We want the school to be back in session as we know this greatly reduces the likelihood of these tragedies occurring.
We have an agriculture program, teach organic farming, and have put sustainability at the forefront of everything we develop. Our team on the ground consists of all Congolese people, who we are developing professionally through quality teacher training and opportunities to grow their own leadership skills.
A specific example of this community empowerment is the small businesswomen in the community launched earlier this year following their education at our community center. We provided sewing, literacy, math, and entrepreneurship classes to the women, and they have been sewing bags and accessories that they are now selling at the school, community center, and also the local supermarket, Hyper Psaro. Anastasie is part of this fledgling business, called Mama Ya Mapendo. At 51, prior to her training at Malaika, Anastasie had no job and was looking after her children at home. She heard about the community center, where we utilize sport for social development, and she played football there before learning sewing and hand embroidery. Anastasie is very grateful for Malaika: “I never had hope, but today I’m building my daughters’ hope through the empowerment I have gained”.
This Article is part of our 60th Anniversary Series. It is written by Noella Coursaris Musunka. Noella is an International Model, founder of The Malaika Foundation in the DRC, and Ambassador for The Global Fund to fight against AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. To learn more about The Malaika Foundation please visit www.malaika.org. Or follow Noella and the Malaika Foundation on their social media handles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
Copyright on Photo: Georges Malaika Foundation