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How UR grad is helping his homeland: ‘I don’t want to forget them’

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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Manyang Kher, one of the thousands of orphans who walked for months from war-torn Sudan to a refugee camp, does not run from his dark memories.

“It was heartbreaking. My father was killed during the war,” Kher said. “It is not easy. It is really, really hard. Many people didn’t make it.”

The Henrico man’s tale defies description and his near-death experiences 7,000  miles away have defined him.

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At the age of four, Kher escaped war-torn Sudan with his fellow Lost Boys, a group of 20,000 orphans who walked for months to a refugee camp in neighboring Ethiopia. For 13-long years, Manyang barely survived with little food or shelter.

“Every day I think I’m not going to make it,”  Kher said. “Every night I think about, can I have my father back? Can I have my mother back? Can I have my country back?"

Death arrived in the camp with regularity.

“We have children die every day in our camp and we throw them away,” Kher said.

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Manyang Kher

Catholic Charities helped Kher escape in 2004 and at the age of 17 he enrolled at J.R. Tucker High School. Last month, he graduated from the University of Richmond.

But Manyang’s thoughts remain with the friends he left behind.

“I came to Virginia, Richmond. All of these opportunities we have here I could not have them there,” Kher said. “You don’t forget people just because your life changes.”

Now the 27-year-old wants to help them by selling coffee. Through his non-profit, Humanity Helping Sudan Project, Kher is selling bags of his 734 African java.

“I want people to know about this region,” Kher said. “If one of us succeeds it provides hope for everyone.”

Proceeds from each $10 bag of coffee are fostering self-sustainability and creating jobs.

RVA Café in the West End is stocking Kher's coffee and owner Ozz Nixon is waiving the credit card processing fee to help the cause.

“He is all about what he can do to help his people,” Nixon said. “Everyone that tries it loves it. So far in one week we’ve sold 17 bags already.”

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Coffee lovers like Caroline Hutchings said the brew has made her a believer.

“That is what is unreal. It is not only coffee that you’re going to feel amazing about drinking, but it legitimately tastes delicious. The coffee is amazing,”  Hutchings said.

Kehr, the man who was once lost, has certainly found his way.

“We did good helping people,” Kehr said. “Get the word out That is what I do. That is what I want to do. I don’t want to forget them."

Click here to learn more about Kehr's non-profit and to order coffee.

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Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.