Noella Coursaris Musunka’s story is one of the most inspiring tales we’ve ever had the pleasure to share with you on List For Life. Dividing her time between a flourishing modelling career and her humanitarian project, Noella is one of truest role models we’ve ever spoken to.
Noella launched Malaika which is a school for young girls in Democratic Republic of Congo based nearby to where Noella was born. On International Women’s Day the first ever library in the Congolese town of Kalebuka was launched.
We caught up with Noella to talk about Malaika, balancing a model career and what the next decade looks like for the girls of Kalebuka.
1. Can you give us a brief history of where your career started to where you are now?
My modelling career started when my friends pushed me to enter a competition for Agent Provocateur. I was fortunate enough to be selected out of thousands of girls and things took off from there. I began modelling in other campaigns and spent 10 years going between London and New York for work. But I always kept my birth country of the DRC in mind, I wanted to have a positive impact on this beautiful place. We founded Malaika in 2007 as a response to the education crisis in the DRC, where 7 million children are out of school. Malaika is a nonprofit that provides education and health programs to thousands of people in the Southeastern region of the DRC.
2. How did you decide on founding your project in the village of Kalebuka specifically?
I was born in Lubumbashi, which is about a 40 mins drive from Kalebuka. When we were scouting possible locations for the Malaika School, we looked at different villages in the area around Lubumbashi and Kalebuka was the one that was most committed to the project. The local community pursued us and really showed us that they wanted this school to be a part of their lives. Kalebuka has only five educational centres for a population of 42,000, and none of these are free. The literacy rates are abysmal. This need for a good school, along with the community’s strong support for our mission, are what led us to choose Kalebuka as our base.
3. Can you tell us about your collaboration with Eve? Who else have you worked with that you think is incredible and who would you love to get on team Malaika?
We’ve loved collaborating with Eve, she is so warm and genuinely motivated to lend her support. She’s been promoting our work and she joined us in Kalebuka for the inauguration of our new e-library, along with performing at a fundraising event. She took the time to speak to the villagers and to understand the challenges they face they on a daily basis. We don’t normally seek out celebrities though. Our international team is all-volunteer and they are so passionate about what we do, we look for people who are invested in the long-term and will stick with us through it all.
4. What’s the process of sourcing donations as large as electronics for a non-profit?
We approach relevant corporations that often have in-kind donation programs or CSR sections. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit and a registered charity, we can also provide tax deductible donation receipts.
5. What has been the most rewarding moment of your non-profit career and, inversely, what has been the most challenging?
The most rewarding moments are when I see how eager the girls are to learn. They give me the strength and energy to keep going in the challenging moments because of how hard they work. We’re not just providing them with an education, we’re giving them hope for a different kind of life and they are seizing that opportunity with both arms.
6. Your work since 2007 has been inspirational for so many people! With nearly ten years under your belt and so much achieved, what do you want to strive for in the next 10 years?
In the next 10 years we will have started to see the older girls graduate from our secondary school. We want to be able to offer them mentorships and internship and eventually see them finishing university studies. We feel a responsibility for the girls that extends far beyond the walls of the Malaika School.