My earliest memories are of war and atrocities all around me. I became a refugee from the Sudanese civil war and was one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” For 13 years I lived in refugee camps along the Sudanese and Ethiopian border. At age 17, I was brought to America where I learned English and eventually enrolled in college.  

The most important thing – the one thing no one can take away from me – is my education. In times of despair, education was a glimmer of hope, a pathway to a better future, and the only way forward. I am saddened that two decades later, there are even more children than before who are refugees, displaced and struggling to get an education in the wake of emergencies and conflicts around the world. Today, I dedicate my efforts to helping provide education and scholarships to other Sudanese refugees. I want them to have the same opportunity that I once had to change my life and build a better future.

To do my small part in helping to bring opportunity to others, I have started my own form of innovative financing: working with small-scale microenterprises to import and sell coffee to support education. My company, 734 Coffee, uses coffee harvested in Gambella, a region in Ethiopia where over 200,000 displaced South Sudanese citizens now live after fleeing war, atrocities, drought, and famine in South Sudan. After the coffee is brought to the United States, 80 percent of the proceeds go to support the education of Sudanese refugees.

My nonprofit, The Humanity Helping Sudan Project, focuses on all aspects of support for refugees. We raise funds to fix wells that allow access to clean water, provide fishing equipment, support poultry farmers, and help farmers grow fruits and vegetables. The purpose is to help refugees help themselves and find sustainable incomes. But the Humanity Helping Sudan Project is also focused on the one thing no one can ever steal: education. The main focus is on vocational training and traditional education, to provide refugees with more opportunities to sustain and grow their communities free from outside help.

What we do is make a difference in the lives of real young people – like Sudanese boy Duany Thabach, who is studying in Kenya thanks to a scholarship that we’ve been able to provide. But my dream would be to multiply our impact tenfold, twentyfold or by 20 million! That is why I am thrilled to learn about the new International Finance Facility for Education. The Facility is not an idea based on handouts, but rather on helping countries commit more of their own resources to provide education for themselves and move towards aid independence.  

Many countries rebuilding after war and many refugees – well over half – live in what are called “lower-middle-income countries.”  These countries are starting to grow but not at a rate fast enough to support their social services, like education. While the Education Cannot Wait fund is available during emergencies to mobilize funding to address a crisis, there is currently no mechanism available to help these countries build a longer-term bridge to the future.

The tragedy is that these same countries are considered “too rich” to receive traditional aid or low-cost loans from institutions like the World Bank. This creates a trap, where millions of children are unable to go to school because there is just not enough money.

The International Finance Facility for Education helps countries meet the urgent learning needs of their young citizens. Donors countries provide financial guarantees and grants that allow institutions like the World Bank or the African Development Bank to provide more funding and affordable or zero-interest loans for countries to invest in education. If countries invest to the fullest in educating all of their children, GDP could rise up to 70 percent by 2050 – what a great investment!

I believe if you give a man a net and teach him to fish, you feed him for life. That is what the International Finance Facility for Education will do – help countries to no longer be dependent on aid but have access to funds as a tool to advance their development and the future of humanity. Collectively we can achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 of universal education – one cup of coffee, one student, and one innovative idea at a time.

Manyang Reath Kher is a Sudanese refugee and the Founder and Executive Director of Humanity Helping Sudan Project.