When Manyang Kher, C’14, started the nonprofit Humanity Helping Sudan four years ago, he never anticipated it would lead to a music video shoot with Beyoncé, the chance to attend a Hollywood awards show, or the opportunity to chat with Ben Affleck.
Kher, an international studies major, began his life as a refugee at the age of four, when Sudanese soldiers forced his family from their home. He moved from one refugee camp to another along the border of Ethiopia and Sudan until, when he was 16, a Catholic charity brought him to the United States and his new home at the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls.
But as he adjusted to life in Richmond, he never forgot his homeland. He created Humanity Helping Sudan to raise awareness of the refugee crisis and to assist refugees with meeting their basic needs in a long-term sustainable way. Drawing on his firsthand experience living in the camps, Kher knows the most immediate refugee need is addressing the massive food shortage in the region. The proceeds from his fundraising go toward such efforts as leasing land for refugees to farm, purchasing seeds and fishing nets, helping to develop irrigation systems and wells, and agricultural training.
Earlier this year Kher’s dedication to his homeland was recognized on a national scale when he was named a finalist for the 2012 Do Something Awards.
Since 1996, DoSomething.org, an organization focused on getting teens involved in their community, has been recognizing the best world-changers ages 25 and under with its Do Something Award. The award honors a young person who is making an impact on an issue or cause that they are passionate about. The winner is determined by a panel of judges and by public votes through VH1’s website.
When Kher found out he had been named a finalist in August, a whirlwind of activity began for him. He and the other finalists traveled to New York to participate in a music video with Beyoncé and had the chance to meet Anderson Cooper.
The next stop was Los Angeles for the star-studded Do Something Awards ceremony, broadcast on VH1 with the full red carpet treatment. The Do Something Awards not only honors the winner and finalists, but also recognizes celebrities who use their star power to make a difference.
Kher and the four other finalists had a front-row seat for performances by fun. and Flo Rida. While backstage, Kher met several celebrity activists including Ben Affleck, Ne-Yo, and Will.i.am. His finalist award was presented by supermodel Alek Wek, who is also a refugee of the war in Sudan. “It was great to be a part of it,” he says. “I met a lot of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
While Kher was not named the winner of the $100,000 grand prize, each finalists’ organization received $10,000. He plans to use the money to lease additional land for refugees to farm and continue his work with irrigation.
For Kher, the biggest reward from the experience was the opportunity to bring national attention to the plight of Sudanese refugees. While his work has generated results, he acknowledges there’s still much to do, and knows that raising awareness is the fastest way to see results. “There have been a lot of changes, but there’s still a lot to be done,” he says. “Refugees need a home, a place of their own to go, and basic human rights.”