The inspiring journey of Yowa and Zhour

Zhour El Arroubi and Yowa Kabongo

“Zhour and I are usually rather talkative. But when we found ourselves in one of the classrooms built thanks to the donation from Pictet, we were speechless, with tears in our eyes, overwhelmed with emotion.” Because this trip was the culmination of a project they had been dreaming about for many months.

On 22 July 2023, Yowa Kabongo and Zhour El Arroubi landed in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Their project: volunteering in the village of Kalebuka where the Malaika Foundation (meaning “Angel” in Swahili) has been operating since 2007. In their six (!) suitcases were books, pencils, notebooks and other school supplies. And their minds were full of dreams and excitement to see this journey finally become a reality.

Yowa started getting involved with Malaika in 2017, thanks to her colleague Mussie Kidane who had just run a marathon to support the organisation. Yowa was moved by Malaika’s mission focused on education, access to water, agriculture, sports and empowerment of disadvantaged communities, with a particular emphasis on girls’ education.

Thanks to Malaika, we can completely change the destiny of several generations.
— Yowa

She tells the story of her father who grew up in Kinshasa, DRC, and was taken care of by a kind person during his childhood. “This benefactor allowed my father to receive a good education and mentored him until the end of his university studies. It changed the uncertain future of this poor boy who was orphaned by his father, indirectly impacting my own destiny. I am living proof that investing in the education of a child with limited prospects, anywhere in the world, has a positive impact not only on their life but also on the lives of their descendants.”

Today, the children Yowa supports through Malaika always bring her back to her father's story and the fundamental concept of long-term impact. As in the case of Clémentine and Joséphine, two young girls whose schooling she finances. "During my last trip, the parents of "my" two little girls were keen to meet me. We don't speak the same language, but you could see the emotion and gratitude in their eyes. Thanks to Malaika, we can completely change the destiny of several generations.”

Yowa embarked on her first volunteer trip with Malaika in 2018. “Although I don’t speak Swahili, what struck me the most when I arrived was the unconditional love that the children, their parents and the staff showed for me. There, I returned to the source of humanity, to simple and genuine relationships, and to its core values...”

The pouch and the bracelet made by"the women of the Malaika community.

In 2019, the Pictet Charitable Foundation (the former name of the Pictet Group Foundation) launched an internal competition. The goal was to reward an association supported by an employee, with the winning organisation receiving a donation of CHF 80,000. Yowa immediately chose to champion the project.

“At that time, I didn’t know many people outside of my business line.” This was a disadvantage because participants had to campaign for the association they were supporting to encourage as many colleagues as possible to vote for it. But that was without counting on the help of several colleagues, especially Zhour, whom Yowa only vaguely knew. Very sociable and dynamic by nature, Zhour had been with Pictet for many years and had a very extensive internal network.

Touched by Malaika’s cause, which she discovered on the Pictet Intranet, Zhour decided to help Yowa win the competition. “She was incredible,” Yowa recalls. “The best ambassador, seizing every opportunity to promote Malaika to all the colleagues she spoke to!” And with resounding success, as the association won the competition with 52% of the votes.

I spent my summer holidays in my hometown in Morocco, teaching local children how to read and write. These actions are an integral part of my family’s history and it’s a legacy we still carry on today.
— Zhour

“The theme of education has always been close to my heart,” explains Zhour. “I was born in Morocco, and my family moved to France when I was six months old. My mother cannot read or write, and she suffered a lot for it. For her, it was essential to provide my brothers, sisters and me with a solid education. But above all, she taught us the importance of giving back to others what life has given us. That’s why – as a child - I spent my summer holidays in my hometown in Morocco, teaching local children how to read and write. These actions are an integral part of my family’s history and it’s a legacy we still carry on today.”

Thanks to the CHF 80,000 donated by the Pictet Charitable Foundation, Malaika built two new classrooms for around forty students and a new well for the village. The money also helped strengthened Malaika's food programme. In 2019, Yowa and Zhour decided that they would go together to witness these achievements with their own eyes.

Due to the pandemic, their project had to be postponed until 2023. During their ten-day stay there, they were involved in organising the graduation ceremony for the first students who completed the 12-year curriculum at the Malaika School. “How emotional to see these young girls we had been following for several years get their diplomas! Malaika does much more than educate young girls. By providing them with STEM-focused education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), they are shaping the leaders of tomorrow.”

“Among the 17 graduates, some will become doctors, engineers or pilots. In fact, three of them have already started their university studies abroad. We were so proud of them. I also have great admiration for Noella Coursaris, the founder of Malaika. She is an extraordinary woman who dared to dream big to change the destinies of all these people,” Yowa enthusiastically explains. Back in Europe, Yowa and Zhour remain fully committed to Malaika. They take part in fundraising events for the organisation and are constantly seeking new sponsors for the children there. “Malaika is a big part of our lives. I am convinced that my commitment to this organisation gives me back much more on a personal level than what I can financially contribute,” says Yowa.

Zhour couldn't agree more: "Over there, the perception of wealth is different from ours. People have 1,000 times less than back home, but they are 1,000 times happier. This simplicity and happiness remind me of who I am and help me to understand what's really at stake in life. Today, my plan is to travel there with my two children. Because they too are touched by the cause and want to get involved in their own way. And that makes me very proud.”

Before concluding the interview, Yowa and Zhour insist on delivering one final message: “Thanks to Pictet and the Foundation’s competition, our commitment to Malaika has received countless support, even at the highest level of the company. We sincerely thank all those who have helped or supported us in our charitable actions with Malaika. Having an employer that places so much importance on the charitable giving of its employees is exceptional!”

When she is not volunteering for Malaika, Yowa is a Client Relationship Officer at Pictet Wealth Management in London, while Zhour is a Customer Service Manager at Group Logistics in Geneva. 

About Malaika and its impact

Founded in 2007, the Malaika Foundation first built a small school for 104 girls in the village of Kalebuka in 2011. Over time, the classrooms have expanded and today 430 students from kindergarten to high school are attending. In addition to free tuition, the pupils receive two meals a day at school, as well as health and medical care. Starting from scratch, this ecovillage is now covered with 31 water wells (impacting 35 000 individuals), farmland providing some of the school’s food, solar panels and a community centre which offers training programs to more than 6 000 young people. Adults are also taught to read and write, and learn vocational and mechanical trades.

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