Reaching Gender Parity in Education in the Democratic Republic of Congo One School at a Time
By Nicole Daley
The Georges Malaika Foundation was founded to empower young Congolese girls to rise above the cycle of gender inequality and poverty to make positive contributions to their society. GMF’s main mission is to create women leaders by providing educational opportunities and social supports to help girls complete their schooling. The team of GMF volunteers recognizes that education is the most effective method of empowering Congolese girls to become part of the decision-making process in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Creating empowered women means creating changes that will spark advancements to develop a fairer society - a society that will allow more people opportunities to reach their potential.
Formal education has been proven time and again to have a profound effect on girls’ lives, those of their future children and their communities. Girls who stay in school for seven or more years marry 4 years later and have 2 fewer children1. As a result, a girl who is educated is more likely to have fewer children later in life, resulting in healthier families and decreased risk for early maternal mortality. Additionally, educating girls increases overall income for all wage earners and causes increased economic independence, lifting entire families out of poverty. The ramifications are not limited to their immediate social network but have benefits for the society at large. It has been shown a girl multiplies the impact of an investment made in her future by impacting her family, the community and the world around her, creating the potential to even increase a country’s GDP. When 10% more girls go to school, there is a correlation with a 3% increase in the country’s GDP on average.2 For these reasons and many more, GMF is committed to working to improve the lives of girls one school at a time - first in the DRC and then throughout Africa.
The story of the Georges Malaika Foundation began years ago in the DRC. Noella Cousaris Musunka, the founder of the organization, was born in Lubumbashi, DRC. At age 5, she lost her father, and her mother, lacking the resources to raise her, sent her to live with European relatives. Noella was educated in Belgium and Switzerland, and after achieving a degree in business management, moved to London and began a career in international modeling. After 13 years of living in Europe, she returned to her homeland to reconnect with her mother for the first time since leaving the DRC at age 5. Struck by the disparities she found in education opportunities for women and girls, as well as the crippling poverty in such a resource rich country, Noella resolved to do something to help her fellow Congolese. In 2007, she started the Georges Malaika Foundation with a group of dedicated industry professionals who contribute their diverse expertise on a volunteer basis.
The Georges Malaika Foundation started with the goal of sponsoring the school tuition and fees for a group of abandoned girls. GMF supported a group of girls for three years before expanding to take on its second goal – construct a school to educate the young girls of the DRC. The team is currently building a school in Kabeluka, DRC, to educate girls from Pre-K through 12th grade. Phase 1 of school construction will finish in April 2011, and the school will open in the Fall of 2011 with an initial class of 104 girls aged 5-6 years old.
Recognizing one of the barriers to school attendance is lack of easy access to clean water, GMF collaborated with the VOSS Foundation to build a well on the school site. This well will be the sole source of water for the school. As construction of the school continues, the functioning well currently serves the community at large. GMF hopes to acquire future funding to build an additional well for the use of the community once the school opens in the fall. The school will also offer a well-rounded sports education program, as involvement in sports has been shown to increase self-esteem and improve academic performance, particularly among girls. The vision is to enroll 338 girls once all three phases of construction are finished.
In order to minimize our working expenses and direct the highest possible percentage of our donations to programs and salaries for local staff in the DRC, the entire international team volunteers their time and expertise. In order to provide members of the community an opportunity to develop marketable skills, the hired local contractor taught village members how to construct bricks; and through a vital partnership, a group of women of the village will learn how to make uniforms for the girls. After school and during weekends, there will be skill-building workshops for the mothers and the girls to help build literacy as well as other essential life skills.
Between 1999 and 2006, the number of children out of school worldwide declined from 100 million to 75 million. However, girls still constitute 55% of all out-of-school children due to increased absences to take care of ailing family members and household chores, menstrual considerations and the threat of violence.3 An all female school environment can better support girls to overcome these challenges. GMF is working towards solutions to these challenges in their inaugural school.
GMF is also focused on the larger picture and engages in activities that help raise awareness and work to eliminate poverty globally. Noella has addressed UNICEF and the Congolese Parliament about issues that confront underprivileged girls. She also participated in the 2009 Global Creative Leadership Summit and the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Special Event to discuss leadership and achieving the goals of Education for All. GMF’s work has been featured in CNN African Voices, Connect the World, Vanity Fair, etc. Additionally, the foundation has helped to facilitate visits to the DRC for many influential people, including a contingent from Columbia University and Khaliah Ali (daughter of Muhammad Ali).
Beyond spearheading GMF projects, the team plays an integral part in bringing other NGOs to DRC. Some of GMF’s supporters, who help to bring resources to the region, include All for Africa, V-Day, Namaste, Pictet, Bally, Black Opal, Round Table. Recently, the team aided Doc to Dock, a non-profit that redistributes medical supplies, in bringing 5 shipping containers worth approximately 2.5 million dollars to the region's hospitals. With passionate dedication, the team works to further any cause they believe will empower children and ignite positive change throughout Africa. If you would like to learn more about GMF or donate, please visit www.gmfafrica.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
Nicole received her BA from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and graduated with her MPH from Boston University School of Public Health. Her work centers around working with youth to prevent teen dating violence and promote healthy relationships throughout the City of Boston. She has a deep commitment to working with young people and addressing social justice issues that serve as obstacles to their success. Nicole has been volunteering with Georges Malaika Foundation because she believes that education is a means of ending the cycle of poverty for girls.