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A Sit-Down Interview with Activist and Model Noella Coursaris Musunka

We talk female empowerment and life’s successes, adaptations and lessons.

A public-spirited individual with the dream of seeing African women and the youth thriving and empowered, Noella Coursaris Musunka is a mother, model, humanitarian and philanthropist who founded Malaika in The Democratic Republic of Congo. The foundation operates a number of facilities, from a school and community centre, to wells and plantation fields. She is the ambassador for the Global Fund which works to develop programs to fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. 

She highlights the importance of education as key to successful personal, intellectual and emotional growth, and is dedicated to promoting it through her multiple philanthropic ventures. 

We sat down to interview Noella while she’s here as an honoured guest receiving an award from Nelson Mandela’s family and the Enhle Cares Foundation:

Noella with the students from the Malaika school in the DRC

Q&A

What have been some of the biggest accolades in your career? 

To be a mom of two children is my biggest accolade. My son is going to be nine years old and my daughter is four. After my children, I would say Malaika (meaning Angel in Swahili). To have been able to develop our programmes in the village is amazing. In terms of fashion and beauty, I would say being the face of Black Opal and Maxfactor which are the two beauty campaigns I did this year. Another accolade is the privilege of receiving an award by the Mandela Family. It is important to me and I feel that it’s not about the award but it’s about Mandela’s legacy. 

The Black Opal Campaign/ Photographer: Erik Asla

What social and health issues do you advocate for?

Girls education, but more importantly, quality education. Malaika is all about empowering the youth and the rest of the community through education and health programs. To develop and maintain an entire village is a lot of work. We have the school with 314 children, we’ve built 17 wells, we grow our own food which goes to the school’s canteen. There’s the community centre where we have up to 5000 people (adults and youth) frequenting the facility annually to participate in free programs such as reading, writing and leadership among others. We use sport as a tool to bring people together to tackle family problems such as violence and family planning. We believe in quality education and programs which is why I feel that it’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses.

The school surrounding in the DRC

What inspires you to do what you do?

My dad passed on when I was very young and my mom didn’t have the resources to keep me so I grew up with families in Europe. After 13 years, I reconnected with my mom and I promised myself that I would not only do something for her and my community, but that I would help my continent. Education is very important and is where you will create an extension of change. We need more women and youth in society so I use that as consistent inspiration in what I do. 

Is there room for a concept like Malaika to expand? 

It’s a big project and is a huge responsibility. We are in the process of writing a manual and it is really about duplicating the entire concept and I would be happy to help anybody that would want to duplicate it anywhere in the world. Africa needs to invest in quality education and that involves training teachers, upgrading the curriculum in schools and that is one thing that I would like to advocate and push for. If I can influence for sure, I will do it. We’ve been running for 11 years and every year I am thankful for being in existence. We wanted to develop a school where children can be nurtured, where they can be thinkers, creatives and where they are motivated. 

What do you hope the future looks like for women empowerment and education of the female youth? 

I want to see more women have key roles in Africa. Similarly, I think that it is very important to invest in the youth, to teach them the new ways of thinking… that’s my dream. I want them to be engineers, economists, politians and even presidents

What do you do to de-stress?

I gym regularly and I love going to the spa. When you are working in the industry, you still have to look after yourself so that is very important. I love makeup but I don’t actually wear a lot of it. I wear mascara, lipstick and blush. I don’t encourage the youth to wear a lot of makeup either.

Photography: David Reiss

What has the modelling industry taught you? 

You have to be yourself. Not everybody will like you and not every brand or magazine will book you which is okay. Modelling also teaches you to have a plan B, you never know what is going to happen tomorrow so you have to be prepared. I have many young girls saying that they want to model and I say “That’s really good but you have to study”. You never know what the future holds and the industry is changing now. It’s not only about being beautiful, it’s about personality, who you are, what you do- it’s basically about having substance. I speak at the school and we have open discussions about various topics. You hear young adults discussing how they see the world, some of them are brainwashed by social media and some don’t really care. You actually see how some people have an understanding of their surroundings and how a few of them actually question the importance of social media- they say “I have no choice, I have to work and study, social media is not going to pay my bills.” 

I feel that social media allows people to wear a mask. People ask how many followers do you have? and I say “Ask me how many lives I’ve saved instead”. I don’t think it’s good to label because it sends the incorrect message but I think this is just a phase in society. You cannot live through your phone and it is very important for your mind to not be linked to your phone. For me, the interval between 4-8pm is purely dedicated to my family and is the time when I completely break away from phone usage. 

Photography: David Reiss

Can you provide us with one beauty tip and product that you swear by?

I love lipstick, even if you don’t use foundation, lipstick makes you feel a certain way – especially when it’s a bright colour. In terms of beauty tips, I think it’s very important to remove your makeup at night and to use a good cream and serum. I’m a mommy and I don’t wear makeup during the week so it’s usually effortless. When I go to an event at night, I like to feel glamourous with blush, eyeshadow, eyeliner etc. Your look should always accommodate for the current event. 

Photography: Jem Mitchell
Photographer: Erik Asla

For more information about Malaika, go to malaika.org

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