Noella Coursaris is more than just a pretty face. The model, who was born to a Congolese mother and Cypriot father in Lubumbashi, Congo, uses her high-profile image to give back to her native country.
Through her charity organization, the Georges Maliaka Foundation (www.gmfafrica.org <http://www.gmfafrica.org>), she aims to empower Congolese women. "I was born in Lubumbashi, but received my education in Europe after my father passed away when I was 5 years old and my mother was no longer able to care for me. Upon returning to my country after a 13-year separation, I was struck by the contrasts I found, underscoring my gratitude for my education and experiences in Europe, but also my empathy for my counterparts back home," explains Coursaris, who was schooled in Belgium before moving to London as a teenager where she was discovered after winning a modeling competition. "In 2007, I founded the Georges Maliaka Foundation to empower young Congolese women to rise above the violence of war and make a positive contribution to their society."
Being a popular model has only helped her cause, says Coursaris. "My modeling career has had a positive impact on the Georges Malaika Foundation (GMF)," she explains. "For example, GMF and I were featured in Vanity Fair magazine; the fashion world is interested in the work I do outside of my modeling career. Furthermore, GMF recently held an event with the Bally Fashion House in New York City where 10% of the proceeds from the evening were donated to GMF. This type of support is encouraging for us."
Among the goals of GMF are to sponsor young girls so they can attend school. The charity also provides girls with tuition, essential school supplies and meals and it is building eco-friendly schools in the country. GMF also offers college scholarships to the best-performing students. "GMF’s initial short-term focus was to sponsor young abandoned girls in Kalebuka to attend school by providing them with financial support and/or access to a school," says the model. "Our first goal was to provide full tuition costs, meals, uniforms and school supplies to girls who lacked the financial resources to attend school. This aim has been achieved and a group of girls have been sponsored since the 2008 academic school year. The majority of these girls are former street children who live in an orphanage."
Though only four years old, the charity has achieved many of the goals it set out to when initially founded. "To further achieve our goals of making a change in the lives of many, our second target is the construction of a school with an initial capacity of 104 students (increasing to 338 on completion), in a quarter of the district of Kalebuka, located in the periphery of Lubumbashi where no school exists," Coursaris points out. "The design of the school is such that upon success, it can be easily replicated and constructed in other regions. We taught the village to make bricks."
Coursaris has big dreams for GMF. The organization’s long-term goals include ending poverty and hunger, universal education; gender equality; and to improve child health in the African nation. "We have had a great and positive response so far. The local people and government in Kalebuka, part of the Katanga Province, are excited about the school, and it is important to have their support. However, we are always looking for funding opportunities, as building a school and sponsoring the girls is very expensive," says Coursaris. "The school will open for students in September 2011. GMF’s long-term plan is to expand its work throughout Africa. Our success in Katanga will lead to similar efforts within the DRC and in neighboring countries."
Obviously, Coursaris is more than a top model.