UR student is finalist for VH1 award

Manyang Kher, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” speaks with children in his homeland.
University of Richmond junior and J.R. Tucker High School graduate Manyang Kher, 24, is one of five finalists for the VH1 “Do Something Award,” whose winner will be announced Aug. 21.

The award honors a humanitarian 25 years or younger who has performed outstanding work in his or her community to better the world. They are people who are making pivotal advances to create a change in their cause or issue. The top five Do Something Award finalists receive a $10,000 community grant, while the grand prize winner receives a $100,000 grant towards his or her community project. Kher was nominated for his creation of a non-profit organization, Humanity Helping Sudan.

Already in his young life, Kher has completed a long journey, one that began at an early age when he was separated from his family during the Sudanese civil war in his native country. He spent his life in refugee camps and was one of the 20,000 “Lost Boys of Sudan,” a group of boys who were displaced and/or orphaned during the war. Kher came to the United States when he was 13, unsure of his future but excited for opportunities.

He lived at the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls in Henrico, where he was able to settle and adjust to American lifestyles, but the lineage to his homeland always remained deep in his heart. He entered the University of Richmond as an international studies major and began work on his non-profit that focuses on creating a food supply for the Sudanese people.

After talking to students and professors from University of Richmond and officials from the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls, Kher gained support to make his project a reality. He became extremely motivated after his first fundraising project generated $5,000 and local organizations such as Whole Foods Market and Nile Ethiopian restaurant showed support.
Kher with Beyonce at a VH1 taping

The food situation in Sudan is dire and one that is only deteriorating amid growing economic problems, food shortages, rising prices, displacement and internal conflicts.

The nation’s Crop and Food Security Assessment report shows that for 2012, 4.7 million people will be food-insecure, an increase of 1.4 million from last year and that the nation will only produce half the food it needs. The rapidly approaching world crisis that cannot be ignored is one that Kher wants to help solve with his efforts.

“There are people who need it, and there is nobody who can help them,” Kher said. “They don’t have a home, they don’t have shelter, and it is hard for them to make a living, so it was something I felt like I had to do – help these people with their lives. I feel the pain of the people and have a personal connection.”

During the past three years, Kher has been working diligently to implement his project that seeks to provide aid and assistance to the Sudanese people in Ethiopia, Somalia and Southern Sudan.

Through personal experience and communication with people still living in the area, he has created sustainable solutions to help alleviate causes of suffering in the region. His objectives are to address the massive food shortage in the region, provide agricultural training and cultivation of indigenous crops (maize, sorghum, millet, vegetables and fruits) and to assist with the health and medical needs of the refugee community.

“I have done a lot of things in a quick amount of time, almost like an organization that has been around for 30 years,” said Kher. “We have done things quicker and easy because we are true to what we do. By growing things locally and organically, it costs less, and we become more efficient for ourselves. We want to give them things that can help them quickly and for the long term. They can be a farmer for life, or a fisherman for life and set themselves up for the future.”

Kher understands that the locals in the region need tools so they can take advantage of their environmental assets and help provide for themselves. He wants to provide fishing nets for the people, chickens and roosters for eggs, well repair for drinking and cooking water and create a synergistic community of empowered individuals that provide directly for their families.

There also will be a local agriculture training center that allows students to work the land and provides a place where families can grow their own food in the community garden. The focus is to implement these tools so that the people will not have to rely on others.

Kher’s motivating factor in his drive to help his homeland is that its people are in such desperate need.

“I was suffering at one point and my life was not promising, but someone helped me and showed me that things would get better,” said Kher. “Their life was not promising from the beginning but I will make their life one where they can try to make a family of their own and live the life they want to live. The more I help and the more food I provide, the better they will be.”

On Aug. 21 at 9 p.m. a panel of judges and voters on VH1’s website will determine the grand prize winner. Kher is guaranteed $10,000 for his organization as a finalist but already feels that he has won.

“This is a great thing for me,” he said. “The contest is not an easy one to win, but at this point I have won because people have pulled for me and will see the problem. I’ve been there from the beginning and I know the life, and I just want for theirs to be better.”

To vote for Kher, visit http://www.vh1.com/shows/events/do_something_awards/2012/the-do-something-award.
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The Henrico County Community Author Showcase, a program that connects writers and readers in the community, will begin at 7 p.m. and continue on the second Monday and every Thursday of the month at various libraries. Justin Young will share his book “Fiyah Starter” at Twin Hickory Library. For details, visit http://www.henricolibrary.org/authors. Full text

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