The TRUE Africa 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today and tomorrow. We’re featuring them over 100 days and we’ve asked each of them three questions.

Noella Coursaris founded the grassroots, non-profit Malaika in 2007 with the mission to empower young Congolese girls and their communities through education. They are currently providing a free education to 231 girls at the Malaika School in the village of Kalebuka, in the southeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Malaika has also built five fresh water wells which are now providing clean drinking water to more than 10,000 people. Noella is a model who works to promote African fashion; she is the brand ambassador for Africa Fashion Week London 2015.

Why is educating girls particularly important?

Seven million children are not attending school in the DRC. This education crisis affects all sectors but it has the strongest impact on girls. Young women in the DRC have only a 51 per cent literacy rate, which leaves many of them disenfranchised, disempowered and susceptible to abuse. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty.

Noella Coursaris at the Malaika School

Educated women are less likely to marry early or to die in childbirth, they have fewer children and are less vulnerable to diseases like HIV. They also increase their income by an average of 25 per cent and reinvest 90 per cent of it into their families and communities, strengthening the Congolese economy. Our goal is to build the leadership capacity of each student so that she gives back to her community and has a positive, long-term impact on the future of the DRC.

Noella Coursaris at the Malaika School

Have you been tempted to accept the help of big organisations and expand?

Our focus for the moment is on ensuring the quality of our programmes. We are still building the Malaika School and every year we build new classrooms which allow us to enroll more students. We are also constantly adding programmes to our community centre and looking for potential sites for new wells or water projects. By growing in this incremental way, we are able to maintain both a consistent level of quality and a strong relationship with the Kalebuka community.

Noella Coursaris at the Malaika School

Who’s your African of the year?

Dr. Denis Mukwege. As a fellow Congolese, I find him so inspiring. Even after an assassination attempt, he returned to the DRC and continues his work treating women who have been raped. He is a passionate advocate for human rights and for his country.

Find out about

Follow Noella on Twitter @Noellacc

Come back tomorrow for the next TRUE Africa 100 and keep up to date using the hashtag #TRUEAfrica