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Exclusive Interview: Noëlla Coursaris Musunka

In 2007, Women in Dev speaker Noëlla Coursaris Musunka founded Malaika, a non-profit grassroots organisation with the mission to empower Congolese girls and their communities through education and health programs. Malaika operates in the village of Kalebuka, in the south-eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. As one of the leading voices in girls’ education in Africa, Noëlla is also an Ambassador for The Global Fund, to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, established by Bill and Melinda Gates. In this short Q&A, Noëlla gives Women in Dev readers an exclusive insight into her vision and work.

Q: Noëlla, Forbes Magazine described you as ‘the Trailblazer in the Congo’ – how have you found the journey of trailblazing for women in the Congo?

I have found it hugely rewarding. There have been many challenges but the women of the DRC face a significant number of challenges that they have to overcome daily just to meet their family’s needs. Our model is quite unique in terms of what Malaika can offer the community. We have had a big impact over the past twelve years but all that we are achieving is the result of a team of dedicated people. 

Q: You have described the story of Malaika as reflective of your own story. How do those two stories match each other?  

I want to see women economically independent and undertaking key roles in society. Many girls in the DRC do not have access to free, high-quality education. That would have been my story too had it not been for my mother who sacrificed a lot to send me away to Europe to gain an education. When I see the girls in Kalebuka, I see their potential. The same potential I had and was privileged to have had developed by the quality education and the opportunities that afforded me. I started Malaika out of a desire to do what my mother did for me; provide an education and a chance to have a positive future. 

Q: How have the opportunities provided by Malaika affected women in the wider community of Kalebuka and beyond?

Malaika is a self-sustaining ecosystem that provides work and education for adult women in the community. We train women to sew and make our uniforms as well as accessories and bags. This enables them to develop vocational skills. We also teach literacy and health awareness for young women at our community center. I think that educating the girls in the community inspires local women to learn and be enterprising themselves. 

Q: We love your videos on social media celebrating the students at Malaika. How important is storytelling to your goals as a philanthropist?

It’s essential to show our donors and supporters the incredible impact that their generous giving is having on this community. I always want our stories to be positive and inspirational because this is what Malaika is. I work hard day-to-day and so when I go to Congo I work but I love to take breaks and just dance and sing. Music and dance are part of our culture. In the media, Africa is often painted very negatively and I don’t want to display that. We have a lot of challenges but we want to respect and uphold the dignity of our beneficiaries.  

Q: What advice would you give to your fellow advocates and philanthropists who want to start providing education and health for all?

Clarify your vision and then work to achieve that. Try not to be diverted by all the needs you encounter because you can’t do everything at once. Find a model that works and build it, one bit at a time. Also, let the local team lead. They know the problems and solutions better than anyone.

Q: You have described the power of being able to shape the narrative for your own children as the next generation, to “inspire the next wave.”  What advice do you give to Women in Dev fans on inspiring the next generation?

Be positive, have courage, and be inspirational in what you say and do. Empower other women and lift them up. Be yourself, take your time, and start when you’re ready and happy with yourself. Once you start you can’t go back as you’re touching lives from the get-go. 

Q: We are delighted to have you as part of Women in Dev. What are you most looking forward to about the conference in the run up to International Women’s Day 2020?

Gathering with other inspirational female leaders, sharing stories of our successes and failures and growing together.