Once upon a time, a model born from the love of a congolese woman and a man from Cyprus decided to give back to the community by building a free school for girls in her home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC). Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to our role model: Noella Coursaris.
Growing up between DRC, Switzerland and Belgium, you are a citizen of the world, why emphasizing the DRC?
I was born in the DRC and lived there. Then my father passed away and my mother didn’t have the resources to care for me, so she sent me to relatives in Europe. When I eventually returned to the DRC as an 18-year-old, I was shocked to learn that 7 million children were not attending school. I swore to do something. Congolese people are so warm and friendly and the country as a whole has such enormous potential.
What was the driving force behind starting Malaika?
I had always been passionate about empowering women and bringing positive attention to the DRC. Education is the catalyst for change and there is little value placed upon educating girls in the DRC. So in 2007 we created “Malaika”our focus is on providing high quality programs that have a direct impact on the community.
What is “Malaika’s mission”?
Our goal is to build the leadership capacity of each student so that she is empowered to give back to her community and has a positive, long-term impact on the future of the DRC. Most of our work centers are on education and health initiatives, the backbone of a robust society.
What kind of class do girls attend at your school?
The curriculum is structured around daily classes in French and English, on subjects including math, science, information technology, health and civic education. Great care is taken to cultivate the leadership potential of the students, from involvement in the Girl Scouts to field trips and community service projects, such as planting trees or teaching the community about malaria prevention. Art, music, theater and physical education classes are also a key part of the robust educational programming.
Are you planning to open more schools?
Instead of building many schools, we prefer to create the best school possible, one where we would be proud to send our children to. Every year, as we raise funds, we build more rooms, enroll more girls and expand our programs.
Why is empowering girls through education important to you?
The education crisis in Congo disproportionately affects women and girls. Providing girls with an education helps breaking the cycle of poverty. Educated women are less likely to marry early or to die in childbirth and they are less vulnerable to diseases like HIV/AIDS. They also increase their future earnings by approximately 10-20% for each additional year of schooling and will reinvest most of it back into their family and community. Educating girls lifts entire families out of poverty and creates confident, empowered young women.
Open school means that any kid can attend it?
We only enroll girls. They must be five years old, as we want them to start in Kindergarten and go through their entire schooling with us; they must live no further than 3km away from the School. And we only take one girl per family, although we have made an exception in the case of twins. The remaining eligible girls are then entered into a random lottery system, from where we select 30 new students.
I will be inaugurating the first library in Kalebuka with Grammy Award-winning hip-hop artist, Eve. Solar panels are being installed to lower our dependency on unreliable electricity and will enable us to set up the computer room. In the fall and each subsequent year, we will welcome a new class of 30 girls, until we reach 340 students. Lastly, we are raising fundraisers in order to build the Development Offices. The final, and most critical, section of this building will be the student health center.