Alumni Entrepreneurs

Meet JCU Student Oston Jemba Madengue, Founder of Jemba Against Domestic Violence

September 9, 2015

By Paola Pagani

OstonOston Jemba Madengue from Los Angeles, is a Freshman at John Cabot University studying International Business. From a young age, Oston has volunteered for community-based activities, until one day he decided to take the next step. He founded his own charitable effort, Jemba Against Domestic Violence. Last year he received a Proclamation from the LA City Council and a Presidential Community Service Award from First African Methodist Episcopal Church for his achievements.

Where did the idea come from?
I first founded Jemba Against Domestic Violence in 2007, during my last year of elementary school. One of my friends’ parents was working at the Jenesse Center, a shelter that houses women and children that have suffered domestic violence. I heard that they were having difficulties receiving donations. Although I was really young, I decided to talk to my mom who had just started the Cultural Awareness Committee at my school, a group of parents that organized cultural events, musicians and artist performances for kids. I asked her whether it was a good idea for Christmas to collect toys and donate them to the center. She supported me from that moment on and that is how it all started.

How did it turn from an idea to a community project?
When I started middle school in Oakwood, I wanted to continue collecting toys, but this time on my own. So I asked friends if I could place collection boxes in their stores, as I was trying to find convenient places for families and friends to drop off toys. That year, I placed only a few boxes and received 300 toys. The year after, I opened up more collection spots, including restaurants, preschools, local bakeries and even my dentist’s office. That is when the toy drive really got us around not only with toys, but also with donations and fund raising.

The turning point however, occurred thanks to the Pantages Theatre.  Through my mother, I was able to meet the woman in charge of their publicity, who was immediately supportive. That Christmas I contacted her and dropped off some flyers and collection boxes. When I went back to collect the toys, the box I had given her was full and behind it there were 4 more! The whole office had collected toys for us and had even put together 5 visa gift cards. That year we had a surplus of toys so I decided to search online for other domestic violence shelters. That is when I stumbled upon Project Peace Makers Inc and I arranged to meet the director, one of the most amazing women I know. As our network started spreading, more and more people heard about our mission and last year we even got donations from the Ellen DeGeneres Show, where I hope to participate next Christmas.

What have been the main challenges?
The main challenge has always been getting people more involved. People care for our cause and give toys every year, but they do not go beyond that. I would like to see people volunteering at the shelters or help us organize more events, basically become advocates for nonviolence. Besides that, I am currently facing the difficulty of coordinating our activities from overseas. Unfortunately, this year we collected half as much because I wasn’t there. I am still figuring out how to manage my university work and Jemba Against Domestic Violence simultaneously.

What are your plans for the future?
Honestly, I want to move forward, do more for shelters that address the issue of domestic violence. One of my plans for next year, for example, is to collaborate with Pure Fix Bicycles a company owned by a couple of guys that graduated from my high school. Hopefully, they will agree to get involved either by donating bikes or create a promotion through their sales online. Basically, I would like to cultivate the networks that I already have in the city and get people to be more involved to our cause.

What is most rewarding about what you do?
The smile on boys’ and girls’ faces when they finally receive their new toy; at that exact moment you know that all the hard work, the sweat and the tears have paid off! Right before Christmas, we organize an event with Project Peace Makers. We have lunch with the mothers and then we lead them to a room filled with toys where they can pick anything they prefer for their kids. I also enjoy seeing the whole process with my own eyes.

Has JCU helped you at some level?
Although it might be too early for me to realize it, I would say that JCU has opened my eyes to a global perspective. During one of my classes, we watched a TED Talk by Scilla Elworthy, an advocate for nonviolence. She said that while there is violence at the community level that touches us individually, there is also a larger global aspect to it that touches all of us. That resonated with me because it made me realize that the work I am doing in my community might actually have an impact on the world as a whole.

Anything you want to share with the JCU community?
I believe that helping others is important, and it is something that we are not taught in school. Luckily I had this really awesome mother that from young age started me on the path of me volunteering. But the truth is that we need to inspire people to do more for others - not to have this sort of streamlined view where there is just “me” in this world. We can all take part in a good cause; it is just a matter of following that force that pushes you to care. At the end a lot of small things put together can impact someone’s life forever.

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