Noëlla was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to a Cypriot father and a Congolese mother. When Noëlla was just five, her family suffered a terrible tragedy when her father suddenly died. With no education or financial resources, Noëlla's mother could no longer support her. So only months after losing her father she lost her mother too when she was sent to live with relatives in Belgium and, later, Switzerland.
Throughout her childhood abroad, Noëlla 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, but whilst living with relatives, she 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 led to her proudly receiving a degree in Business Management in her early 20s.
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.
Around this time, Noëlla's friend entered her into a competition to become a model and she was chosen to appear in a campaign for Agent Provocateur. Modeling took Noëlla from the pages of fashion magazines like Vogue, Elle and Vanity Fair to a global stage. As she traveled the world, she discovered a platform through 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 lives in the community of Kalebuka and are all offered completely free of charge. Its projects include: a school that provides an accredited, holistic curriculum for over 300 girls;, a Community Center built in partnership with FIFA that, provides education, health, and sports programming to over 5,000 youths and adults per year; clean water for over 30,000 people each year through the building and refurbishment of 17 wells, greatly reducing disease and illness.
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. As one of the leading voices in girls’ education in Africa, Noëlla is an Ambassador for The Global Fund, to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, established by Bill and Melinda Gates.
“In a way, Malaika is the story of me,” explains Noëlla in an interview. “The problem in Africa is that women’s education is not a priority. 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.”
An advocate for girls’ education, Noëlla has spoken in front of countless international audiences, including the 2018 World Economic Forum at Davos, UNICEF, and the UK Parliament, while also appearing 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 has 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, one of Lifestyles’ most powerful women in philanthropy, and one of the BBC’s most inspirational and influential women of 2017.
Alongside being a mother to two young children, Noëlla continues to work as a model, representing MAX FACTOR and U.S. makeup brand BLACK OPAL. In January 2019, she collaborated with fashion designer Roksanda and THE OUTNET to launch an exclusive clothing collection with proceeds supporting Malaika. 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.