Family, Philanthropy, Fashion: Noëlla Coursaris Musunka

Rootencial is delighted to introduce Noëlla Coursaris Musunka, an international model and philanthropist of Congolese, Swiss and Cypriot descent.

She is the founder of Malaika, a grassroots organisation in the Democratic Republic of Congo empowering girls and women, and has had a successful modelling career in New York and London having been featured in Vogue, Elle and Vanity Fair. Noëlla was born and raised in the DRC, but moved to Europe at five years of age after her father passed away. Her mother didn’t have the resources to keep her, and so sent her to Europe to receive an education. Noëlla wouldn’t see her mother again for over a decade.

After her 13-year absence from Congo, Noëlla finally returned home. She saw the conditions facing her community in a new light, where many girls and women – including her own mother – have no access to education. To help address this, Noëlla decided to launch Malaika. The organisation has had a transformative impact since, particularly for local girls, building a “model village” in a model that Noella argues can be replicated all over the world later on.

Malaika is really amazing; when I started out, I never thought I’d be able to find the money to do it. But we’ve been building this school with a very high quality of education, raising the funds to build one new classroom every year. 

Noëlla is particularly proud of where Malaika has got so far thanks to all the support it has received. However, quality education is also about enforcing important values: Malaika is really amazing; when I started out, I never thought I’d be able to find the money to do it. But we’ve been building this school with a very high quality of education, raising the funds to build one new classroom every year. We started with 104 girls, and when term starts up again in September we’ll have 312…. Most importantly, at Malaika we focus on one of the words that gets forgotten too often: love.

Noëlla and her team have also built a community centre that impacts more than 5,000 people per year; wells that provide clean water to 20,000 people per year; and have distributed more than 9,000 bednets to prevent malaria, one of the biggest killers in this region.

The importance of this work was brought into focus after Myriam, one of the girls studying at the school was killed by malaria over the Christmas holiday; the emotional toll of this loss has been very hard on everyone, Noella says. Having successfully advocated for a new road to be constructed, Noëlla now has her sights set on bringing electricity to the village, given the total absence of power for the local community. Noëlla’s work has received international acclaim, having been recognised as one of the 50 Women Shaping Africa by ELLE, one of the Most Influential Africans by New African magazine, and having been profiled by CNN, BBC, and Bloomberg.

Yet despite all her success in the fields of philanthropy and modeling, Noella is clear on what her main priority is: family. “The time I spend with my kids is incredibly important to me,” Noella said. “I want to be a mother to them, not a stranger. The fact that I didn’t have parents means it’s very important for me that I’m a mother.” Based in the UK with her husband, son, and daughter, Noella’s whole family play an active role in Malaika’s success. “I’m a donor to Malaika; I give my own money every year, and my husband donates too. Even my son is giving his clothes and wants to get involved in one of the wells; I don’t push them, but my kids want to visit. They go with me every year to Congo, at least once or twice.”

I’m a donor to Malaika; I give my own money every year, and my husband donates too. Even my son is giving his clothes and wants to get involved in one of the wells

Asked about her advice for the next generation, Noella says advice is key. “It’s so important to have mentors; to have good people around you. I’m very lucky to have amazing people supporting me, some brilliant mentors. You need the right people, the right team, and the right advice.”

“Follow your sixth sense,” she adds, underscoring the importance of balancing others’ advice with your own instinct regarding the path to follow.

It’s so important to have mentors; to have good people around you

Noella visited a local school in the UK recently, offering some of this advice. She was surprised by the types of questions that the kids asked her, interested in her social media accounts and the number of followers she has. “Life isn’t about the number of followers you have,” she told the students. “It’s about what you do with your life. It’s not about money, it’s about impacting life, it’s about sharing a message. What is your legacy? What is your story? What is your path to change the world?

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