Noëlla Coursaris Musunka
Noëlla Coursaris Musunka is an international model, philanthropist and founder of Malaika - a nonprofit grassroots organisation that empowers Congolese girls and their communities through education and health programmes. We caught up with her at the Canary Riverside Plaza Hotel to learn how she balances a career in fashion and charity work.
Hi Noëlla, thank you for being our Miss June Preen Line girl! How would you describe your personal style?
I love prints and bold colors! I keep my makeup and accessories fairly minimal, but the clothes are where I have the most fun.
You’ve had quite a varied life – leaving the Democratic Republic of Congo at 5 - could you explain your childhood a little bit for us?
I was born in Lubumbashi, in the DRC, but when I was five, my father passed away and my mother was left without the resources to raise me by herself. She sent me to live with relatives, first in Belgium and then Switzerland. It wasn't until I was 18 years old that I returned to the DRC and reconnected with my mother after thirteen years apart and my home country. This served as the catalyst for the work I do to this day.
After studying a degree in business, you became the face of Agent Provocateur – how did this opportunity arise?
My friend entered me in a competition for Agent Provocateur, which I fortunately won and became their “face”. That opened the door for me to model internationally, including in New York and London.
At what point did you realise that your passion was supporting international human rights?
Upon my return to the DRC, I saw the state of education for girls and the quality of life for communities in that area. I wanted to do what I could to better the opportunities for the Congolese people and felt that education was the key.
You were awarded the ELLE award of ‘Incredible Women shaping Africa’, could you tell us about the work that you do there?
I founded Malaika in 2007, alongside an amazing team of probono professionals who offer their skills and expertise. Malaika focuses on girls’ education and empowerment in the village of Kalebuka. I was fortunate to have the education I did, but for many girls and women in my home country that is not always feasible. We started with a four-classroom schoolhouse and it has grown ever since. Today we have 252 girls at the Malaika School and have also built a community center which offers literacy, health, IT and sports programs to the village. We have also partnered with Voss Foundation to build 8 wells which give more than 16,000 people access to clean water and thus reduce communicable diseases. Malaika is constantly evolving and our programs are always aligned with the needs of the community. I also serve as the liaison for various international organisations who want to bring attention to the DRC and have been fortunate enough to speak at various high level forums, including alongside President Clinton, Princess Caroline, TED Talks, etc.
You are a mother to 2 young children – what’s the most important lesson you will teach them?
I want to teach them that education is power - as it enables us to understand what we’re passionate about and is a tool that only enriches us. I also want them to understand why they must never take it for granted – I am working so that girls in my country only know a life where education is their right, but it will not happen overnight. If my children see what I do and gain a new perspective on their own education, that would be wonderful. My children also come to the DRC with me every year and for them it comes naturally to help.
Is London home for you?
No, I currently live in Cheltenham with my family.
Your work is very intense; how do you relax?
It can be, but it is what I am passionate about. If you do what fuels your spirit, it is a joy, but being at home with my family is my happiest place to be. I especially love spending time reading stories to my children and going to the park with them.
What’s next for you?
I am always finding ways to grow Malaika, and finishing to build the school is pivotal. We have a great local team in the DRC who teach our students and run our community projects, and volunteers who work from all over the world. Malaika is spreading the message about Congolese girls’ and women’s fundamental rights to a good education and to being empowered. As more girls are sent to school, they are more able to thrive in life, and since this is my life’s work, it is interminable. We also just celebrated our ten year anniversary, so we hope to keep doing what we do!
Finally, a question we ask all our Preen Line girls – what are the top 3 songs on your playlist right now?
Sade - Love is Stronger Than Pride
Nina Simone - He's Got the Whole World in His Hands
Stevie Wonder - For Once in My Life
Check out the gorgeous Noëlla on Instagram - @noellacoursaris
Photography by the amazing Eva K. Salvi - @evaksalvi
Don't forget to follow @preenline on Instagram
With thanks to Canary Riverside Plaza Hotel - canaryriversideplaza.com