Manyang Reath Kher is a survivor of a brutal conflict in South Sudan that burned down villages and plunged the region into abject poverty in the 1980s. At the time, he was just three years old. His father died in the conflict, and he was separated from his mother and sister.
He was displaced due to the civil war and became a refugee in a camp at the Sudan-Ethiopia border. He was among the Lost Boys of Sudan, a group of 20,000 boys from the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were orphaned and displaced during the Sudanese Civil War.
Kher was subsequently inducted into a children’s home where he lived on ration cards handed out by UNHCR workers which he used for meals. In addition to shelter and accommodation, he also got basic education in Maths, English and Science.
Kher recalled in an interview with Forbes Africa that living in the refugee camp was not easy. According to him, people were often “hungry, distraught and traumatized.” He saw people die from mosquito bites, others succumbing to cholera while he also survived a snake bite.
He was bedridden for several weeks and even endured a six-month fever. Nonetheless, he survived this ordeal too and recovered to carry on as a young refugee. “At the camp, rains would bring disease and discomfort but we would all tell each other that it can only rain so much,” he added.
After spending 13 years in the refugee camp and away from his parents, he left the camp courtesy of a Catholic charity organization to the United States for a university education. He got admission to a university in Richmond, Virginia, to study International Business.
“I am one of the Lost Boys of Sudan,” he told the UNA-USA. “I was separated from my mother and sister, and my father was tragically killed,” said Kher. “I was exposed to things I would never want any child to see. For 13 years.”
After graduating from college, Kher started a non-profit organization Humanity Helping Sudan to help Sudanese refugees and to provide a way to educate children while improving their community atmosphere.
However, the non-profit struggled to meet its objectives because people doubted him. The company was living off donations but Kher wanted to go beyond donations. This led him to start 734 Coffee, which derived its name from the geographical coordinates of the camp where he was raised.
Starting 734 Coffee did not come easy. It took Kher six years to get the license for importing coffee beans from Africa to the U.S. Before COVID-19 hit small businesses like Kher’s, his company had 300 former refugees working as employees at the cooperative farms in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, according to Forbes Africa. He is also planning to fund the higher education of hundreds of refugee children.