Noëlla was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo to a Cypriot father and a Congolese mother. When Noëlla was only five, her family suffered a terrible tragedy when her father suddenly died.  Noëlla's mother with no education or financial resources could no longer support Noëlla.  So only months after losing her father she lost her mother too when she was sent to live with relatives bound for Belgium and later Switzerland.  

Throughout her childhood abroad she had little or no contact with home and over the course of 13 years she spoke to her mother on the phone only two or three times and they exchanged just a few letters. There were no presents at Christmas and no one celebrated her birthday.

Noëlla had a tough childhood, whilst living with relatives, Noëlla was allowed to pursue her education and this is where she excelled.  This period is best explained in Noëlla's own words “When you have nothing, you know that if you fall there’s no one to pick you up. So you have to stand. I resolved very early on that I would study and work and be independent.”  Noëlla's determination shined through realizing her educational goal in her early 20’s when she proudly received a degree in business management. 

After her 13-year absence from the DRC, Noëlla finally returned to her homeland to meet her mother. After witnessing firsthand the poverty and lack of opportunity for women in the country, Noëlla promised herself that she would one day make a difference.   

Noëlla's friend entered her into a competition to become a model and was chosen to appear in a campaign for Agent Provocateur.  Modeling took Noëlla from the pages of fashion magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair to a global stage. As she traveled the world, she discovered a platform from which to share her passion for human rights.

In 2007, Noëlla founded Malaika, a nonprofit grassroots organization that empowers Congolese girls and their communities through education and health programs.   Malaika’s projects are impacting thousands of people’s lives and are all offered completely free of charge.  Its projects include a school for 280 girls, a Community Center built in partnership with FIFA, which provides education, health and sports programming to approximately 7,000 youths and adults per year. Malaika also provide essential infrastructure development by building 9 wells that supply fresh water to 18,000 people, greatly reducing disease and illness and there are also plans for a clinic.

Noëlla works tirelessly to cultivate the power of education and has reached out beyond the village of Kalebuka to the nation of the DRC and the continent of Africa in order to engage with surrounding communities and invite them to be a part of her education revolution.  It has established Noëlla as one of the leading voices in education for girls in Africa and an ambassador for the Global Fund set up by Bill and Melinda Gates to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

“In a way, Malaika is the story of me,” explains Noëlla in a recent interview. “The problem in Africa is that women’s education is not a priority.  So when my father died my mother didn’t have enough education to earn money, so she couldn’t take care of me. She gave me away because she wanted to give me a chance.” 

Noëlla's is established as one of the most sought-after speakers on the subject of girls’ education. An advocate for peace, she has spoken to countless international audiences including the 2018 World Economic Forum at Davos, UNICEF and the UK Parliament she has also appeared several times alongside President Clinton on Clinton Global Initiative panels. Noëlla has been interviewed about her philanthropic work on global news outlets such as CNN and the BBC, has given a TED talk and presented in front of top executives from multinationals like SAP and T-Systems. Noëlla has been named one of ELLE’s incredible women shaping Africa and one of Lifestyles’ most powerful women in philanthropy.  More recently Noëlla had a featured interview in The Times which went on to appear in the The Week.

Alongside being a mother to two young children, Noëlla continues to work as a model but now her passion is to model with meaning, using her profile to raise awareness for causes she believes in as a mother, a feminist and a believer in the intrinsic human right to education, health and opportunity.

Photography by Bartek Szmigulski

Noëlla with her two children

Noëlla with her two children

Any voice you have in this world, you have to use it. Whatever money you have the day you die, you die without it, so donate. If you can only give an hour of your time, then do that.
— Noëlla Coursaris Musunka - from Richard Reed's book - If I could tell you just one thing