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Building a Global Mentoring Community: The Story of International Jumuiya

As school bells echo throughout New York and students return to classrooms, an emerging nonprofit in Buffalo is working to ensure young minds have the resources, support, and access to opportunities they need to thrive this school year and beyond. International Jumuiya, founded by then-college students Emmanuel Kombi and Thomas Dunia, channels the power of mentorship to uplift young refugees and children living in low-income households. The name of the organization has a profound meaning, translating to “community” in Swahili. As Kombi explains: "We're not just a powerful community; we are the international community.”

Forging a Path as First-Gen Students

Kombi and Thomas’ own journeys are a testament to their talents and the positive influence of mentorship. Both young men came to the U.S. as refugees and forged a friendship while attending a Buffalo middle school. While their locations diverged during high school—Kombi remained in New York; Thomas relocated to Texas—their connection and desire to give back to their communities strengthened. A first-generation high school graduate and college student, Kombi’s path was shaped by many mentors, he says, including those in the Upward Bound Program and community figures who saw his potential. “I didn't have a mom I could go to and ask, ‘Hey, Mom, how was your freshman year in high school?’ But I did have leaders in the schools,” Kombi recalls. “They exposed me to other universities out there. There are also local church leaders in my community who took time to invest in me. I am who I am today because of those individuals.”

Giving Back Through Mentorship

Following a transformative two-year mission in Zimbabwe, Kombi returned to the U.S. more driven than ever to support his local community (“The city that raised me.”). A chance interaction with two Buffalo tense only furthered his resolve. “I saw a couple of kids walking down the street, and talking to them, I came to find out that they were no different than me,” he said. “They had similar situations, but the only gap was that mentorship, that advice that I had from those leaders or those mentors in my life. I was like, ‘Okay, how can we fix that?’" Kombi reached out to Thomas to see if his friend would be interested in starting a youth-serving nonprofit. “He [Kombi] shared his experiences with his high school and how he wants to give back to the community,” Thomas recalls. “I was like, ‘Definitely, I want to be a mentor and give back.’” International Jumuiya was born in 2022, with Thomas playing a pivotal role as Program Director. The organization has since grown from serving one Buffalo high school to three and plans to continue expanding its services throughout the city.

Emmanuel Kombi (lower left) and Thomas Dunia (lower right) discuss their mentoring initiative with MENTOR New York's Erica Friedman Coburn and Hadleigh Kindberg.

Empowering the Next Generation

While mentorship lies at the heart of International Jumuiya, the organization’s commitment to Buffalo youth also extends to offering practical support like winter jackets, book bags, and school supplies. Another core initiative is bringing inspirational speakers to the city to serve as proof that barriers can be overcome and dreams realized. Their recent guest, Haley Taylor Schmitz, is the youngest Black American to ever graduate from a U.S. law school. “Thomas, myself, and a lot of people in the organization were the first to ever do it [graduate],” Kombi explains. “Because we're the first to ever do it, we know that we have a great responsibility to also share that information with the next generation.”

Ensuring mentors are equipped to effectively support youth from diverse backgrounds is critical to the success of the program, Thomas says. The team is currently recruiting caring adults who share the organization’s vision and are attuned to their mentees’ experiences. With MENTOR New York's support, mentors will be trained in mentoring best practices, cultural humility, and how to foster impactful connections. If you’re a Buffalo local and want to get involved, apply to become a mentor today.

Thinking about creating your own mentoring program? Reach out to our team to find out how we can help you get started—and see if your organization is eligible for no-cost support. As New Yorkers embark on another back-to-school season, in the spirit of Jumuiya, together we can build a community that believes in the potential of every young person.


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