One young entrepreneur’s extraordinary life story inspired and impressed students and faculty at the elementary-to-university levels during Shenandoah University’s January 2019 week of activities recognizing the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
During the week, Manyang Kher, a former Lost Boy of Sudan, offered a presentation called Coffee for the Greater Good, co-sponsored by Shenandoah’s School of Education & Leadership and Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business, at Halpin-Harrison Hall, Stimpson Auditorium.
Kher, who lived in a refugee camp for well over a decade, from the age of three, is now a co-founder of the company, 734 Coffee, which is named after the location of his former refugee camp in Africa. During his time in the camp, he was bitten by a cobra, said Professor of Education, Director of Children’s Literature Program and Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Karen Huff, Ed.D. As a teenager, he came alone to the U.S., where he lived in a group home, and found a way to attend college and graduate.
A Story That Demanded a Return Visit
Kher was already familiar with Shenandoah, after having presented at the university’s annual Children’s Literature Conference in June 2018, because his life connected with the work of several of the year’s featured authors. That appearance also inspired a local elementary school teacher to bring her students to hear his story.
“One teacher from Fauquier County who heard Manyang speak at the Children’s Literature Conference (CLC) returned to her school in the fall and had her students read “Home of the Brave” [written by 2018 CLC presenter Katherine Applegate], a fictional book about an orphaned 11-year-old Sudanese war refugee who resettled in the United States,” said Dr. Huff. “When she learned Manyang would be speaking again at Shenandoah she wanted her students to hear firsthand the plight of refugees so she asked if she could bring all the fifth-graders at her school, Claude Thompson Elementary, to Manyang’s presentation. The children sat in the front of the auditorium and listened with rapt attention when Manyang described the many atrocities he faced while growing up. Following his talk, Manyang spent time with these fifth graders and answered their questions about what it was like to live in a refugee camp and his struggles when coming to the United States. When told they had time for one last question, one boy shyly asked if Manyang had a scar on his hand from the cobra bite. When Manyang opened his hand, several of the children moved in closer to see the scars. I am sure that these 11-year-olds will not forget Manyang’s talk or the scars on his hand. I’m sure there will be more questions about displaced refugees and more discussion of what they can do to help.”
A Personal Connection to Social Entrepreneurship
Students studying business at Handley High School in Winchester, Virginia, and Clarke County High School in Berryville, Virginia, also attended, as did an English class from Handley. The business students were invited to have lunch at the business school where they learned about the Byrd school’s programs from professors who appreciated what Kher had to say.
“I was so impressed with his perseverance and strength to overcome all the obstacles life was putting in his path. Manyang lives life with a true purpose, and we can all learn from his struggles,” said Byrd School Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Fritz Polite, Ph.D. “These types of speakers add tremendous value to our students and provide real-world critical thinking in addressing global problems.”
“Our students have learned about social entrepreneurship in the classroom as part of our mission to educate them to be successful, principled leaders with a global perspective. However, many of them had never met a social entrepreneur or heard firsthand how they managed to harness the power of enterprise to creatively address social problems, so this was a memorable event,” said Associate Professor of Business and Byrd School of Business Director of Internships Giles Jackson, Ph.D. “Manyang’s is a particularly powerful story that has resonated across the student body. Thirty of my students will be working with 734 Coffee this semester to help him achieve his business and social goals. We’ll be joining forces with Handley and other local schools to maximize our impact. Such ‘experiential learning’ opportunities are an increasingly vital component of a university education.”
“When talk turns to action so quickly that is success,” Huff said, noting that she also hopes that the students who attended left inspired by Kher’s “resilience and perseverance to do to something to make a difference for displaced refugees.”
Kher’s presentation was made possible with the support of the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation.