Manyang Reath Kher remembers the attack. He remembers fleeing. He remembers the 13 years in a refugee camp. Day in and day out, it doesn’t leave his mind.
As a 3-year-old in Sudan, the government attacked his village during the Sudanese civil war. With the help of his uncle, he escaped to an Ethiopian refugee camp – a two-month journey to safety.
“You don’t forget the thought of running,” Kher says now. “Your life changes forever.”
After 14 years as a refugee, Kher came to the United States to start a new life. Kher graduated from John Randolph Tucker High School in Henrico County and the University of Richmond and recently came back to Richmond to speak to students at The Steward School, telling them his story and about his campaign to help Sudanese refugees through coffee.
Kher, 28, created the Humanity Helping Sudan project about 10 years ago in hopes of bringing awareness to the Sudanese refugee crisis. Last year he started 734 Coffee with proceeds going to help refugees.
“As a refugee, I feel like I need to help because I know the feeling of hopelessness – where no one cares about your condition,” said Kher, who now lives in Washington, D.C., but considers Richmond home.
The coffee beans come from Sudan and Ethiopia, more specifically the Gambela region, whose geographical coordinates serve as the company’s namesake, where coffee is known for its rich flavor with hints of caramel, spice, berries and a smoky chocolate aftertaste, according to Forbes.
About 80 percent of the company’s profits go to Refugee Campus, an education program that provides scholarships to Sudanese refugees.
“It’s still a business, but it’s exciting to reach people who have no idea about the crisis,” Kher said. “And it’s through coffee – people love coffee.”
Coffee prices range from $10 for a medium-size bag of beans to $40 for a grande bag. 734 Coffee is in the midst of launching a subscription program where subscribers will receive a medium bag each month, along with letters, photos and updates from the refugees the company’s profits are helping.
The coffee is sold online and at various markets across the region.
At “Grounds for Good: Changing Lives in Africa through the Coffee We Drink” at The Steward School last week, Kher and Ger Duany, an actor and model who co-founded Humanity Helping Sudan with Kher, told their organization’s story and how 734 Coffee is helping the people whose shoes they were once in. The discussion was part of the school’s Bryan Innovation Lab Visiting Innovators Program.
“We really find that the students really come to life in their classes when we do real-world problem solving,” said Cary Jamieson, director of the Bryan Innovation Lab. “These problems, these humanitarian crises that are affecting people all over the world and refugees, from children to adults to elders, everyone needs help.”
There are still close to 2 million South Sudanese refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“I care about this situation because I lost everything to it,” Kher said. “These refugees, they could spend their whole life there unless someone gives them an opportunity.”
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