The Gates Millennium scholar who stood before Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday had long ago shed any visible scars of his family’s harrowing flight from Myanmar.
There were no bruises on Van Lal Lian’s head. No pricks from the leeches that had latched onto his legs.
But the 18-year-old Wyandotte High School graduate had something in his hands that he kept to show the governor: a white bag.
This, he said, was the bag that workers from the International Organization for Migration handed him — loaded with critical documents and paperwork — the day five years ago he shipped out of a Malaysian refugee camp for America.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Do not lose it, they told him. And he didn’t.
“This was my key,” he said Friday. “This opened my way.”
Brownback and the Kansas City, Kan., office of the Department for Children and Families had been inspired by Lal Lian’s story, which The Star told on Mother’s Day.
His mother, Tial Cuai, fled with her four children after their father was threatened with imprisonment by oppressive officials in Myanmar when Lal Lian, her youngest, was 10.
He was 13 when he arrived in the Kansas City., Kan., school district.
The Department for Children and Families’ regional director, Tammy Thomas, arranged for Lal Lian to meet the governor and the department’s secretary, Phyllis Gilmore, and share his story again.
Buoyed by his mother’s prayers, he survived his refugee ordeal and found his way — despite landing here unable to speak English — to great academic success, to the point of winning the prestigious Gates Millennium scholarship that will pay for all of his college education.
The presentation before department staffers served to remind them of the possibilities that can come of their work helping families, Thomas said. And Brownback said Lal Lian’s service to his community at his church and to other immigrant families in Kansas City is inspiring.
“You are a blessed young man,” Brownback said.
“And you bless others,” Gilmore said.
Lal Lian will attend the University of Kansas to study architecture, he said, with plans to design sustainable and affordable housing to spare children from the harsh conditions he and so many other children have experienced throughout the world.