Sharing Stories and Changing Lives

Visiting Innovators inspire community during “Grounds for Good” event. 

Sharing what you’re passionate about can make a big difference, Cary Jamieson, director of the Bryan Innovation Lab, told students during last Wednesday morning’s assembly. Jamieson was talking about Manyang Reath Kher and Ger Duany, whom she was introducing as the first in this year’s Bryan Innovation Lab Visiting Innovators series.

Kher and Duany were both Sudanese “Lost Boys” who came to the United States as teenage refugees, and now lead the Humanity Helping Sudan Project (HHS) and 734 Coffee, which helps fund HHS. These two social entrepreneurs spent the school day working with our students, exploring the importance of courage, community, self-sufficiency, and positive change.

“In my culture, everybody is a storyteller,” Duany told a group of grade 6 students. “Having a story is a good place to start because you get to know who you are ... You have to have the courage to revisit the past and tell your story. I knew that my story was not a story for a few people, but that if I had the strength to tell my story to many more, then perhaps I could help my people.”

Both young men shared their inspiring life stories—ripped from their families at very young ages, they joined thousands of other children traveling to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. After spending years in the Gambella refugee camp, both were brought to the U.S. by charitable organizations and attended college here.

Neither have forgotten their homeland or the hundreds of thousands of people still struggling through war in refugee camps, and have devoted their lives and careers towards creating positive change there. They have received international recognition for their work: Duany is a Regional Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations’ refugee agency, and Kher won $10,000 from VH1’s Do Something Awards and was chosen to participate in a Youth Ambassador Forum in Paris through the United Nations.

“We understand the struggle of the war, so we decided to become advocates for refugees going through the same things,” Duany told students. “We want to educate the world about what’s going on and how they can make a difference.”

Kher concurred: “I’m not here to cry about what happened to me. I’m here as an entrepreneur to help others.”

Kher, returning back to his country after graduating from the University of Richmond, saw how his fellow refugees were in need of help. "One meal a day is not enough,” he said. “I saw a chance to give people fishing nets and to build a community vegetable garden."

Now their mission is to help give refugees the education and resources to start making a living for themselves. They understand the power of sustainable development. They are hoping that 734 Coffee will be the vehicle to help build a sustainable business model to help others.

Steward junior Morgan King was instrumental in bringing Duany and Kher (whom she knows through a family friend) to campus. King shared that she was moved by their story and thought it would be meaningful to others at Steward. “I’ve heard kids all over school today saying ‘hey, this was so cool,’” she said. “I’ve heard kids telling their parents that this was amazing, and even by those small steps, I’m really hoping that today will bring [Kher and Duany] one step closer to really spreading their message.”

Kher and Duany also shared their story at an evening program, and wowed the audience of parents, teachers, and other Richmond residents with their brave tale and accomplishments. An afternoon Making, Tasting, & Craft Fair preceded the program, which included sales of 734 Coffee, market boxes from the Ipsen Gardens, crafts made and sold by Steward Lower School students, and some of the best of Richmond’s artisan vendors. More than 100 community members enjoyed pastries from Sub Rosa Bakery, Nightingale ice cream sandwiches, River City Wood Fire pizza, and more.

The atmosphere was one of celebration and community, and our Visiting Innovators noticed: “Connecting with young students here has been key for us to understand the importance of community,” Duany said. “It shows just how important community and family are to support you and inspire you to do something today.” 

To view and download photos from the event, click here





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