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Newsroom Governor Brownback Recognizes Gates Millennium Scholar

TOPEKA – A young man who fled Myanmar as a child is now headed to the University of Kansas as a Gates Millennium Scholar. Today, Governor Brownback recognized Van Lal Lian, 18, at the Kansas City Department for Children and Families (DCF) service center, 402 Sate Ave., Kansas City, Kan. Van was presented a certificate from the State and congratulated for his hard work and perseverance.

As a child, Van had to overcome time in a Myanmar orphanage, his father’s mysterious disappearance and a harrowing journey by boat to escape his home country. After numerous stops in refugee camps, Van arrived in Kansas City as a 13-year old knowing almost no English and he and his family dependent upon the DCF Kansas Refugee Program for financial assistance and services. 

Once at Wyandotte High School, it didn’t take Van long to demonstrate great potential, academically. Soon he was not only making excellent grades and playing on the school soccer team, but he was asking his teachers for more challenging school work and volunteering to assist other refugees in the community. He serves as an interpreter for people in Kansas City’s Chin-speaking community and educates refugees on the banking and financial system in the United States. He also volunteers in his church Sunday school.

Governor Brownback thanked Van for his service to the community.

“Anything is possible in the U.S., with determination and resourcefulness,” the Governor said at the meeting at the DCF office in Wyandotte County. “We have a shining example here in Van of what you can do if you have the drive and perseverance to succeed.”
Van and his family benefitted from DCF’s Kansas Refugee Program, as have the 434 refugees placed in Kansas City by the program in fiscal year 2015 (through April 2015). The public-private partnership provides a network of service and support to this vulnerable population. Services include employment services, English language services, citizenship classes and cultural orientation. Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas partners with DCF to assist Van’s family with a wide range of services.

“DCF and Catholic Charities have helped throughout,” the 18-year-old said. “Anytime we needed help, they’ve been there to help us.” 

“Van is one of those success stories that show what people are capable of with just a little help,” DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said.

Van is now headed to KU in the fall to pursue his dream of becoming an architectural engineer, fully funded by the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which recognizes top minority high school graduates who also need financial assistance for college. He hopes to design and build affordable housing for the world’s poor, as well as quality orphanages around the world.

“Van is not satisfied with just gaining for himself. He’s bringing others along with him,” the Governor said. “With his great accomplishments, he also has a great desire to give back.” 

Van recounted his experiences to the Governor and DCF staff, expressing gratitude for the teachers, government employees and especially his mother for helping him succeed. 

“My mother saw that there was only one choice to save our family, and that was to leave (Myanmar),” Van said. “Along the journey, I realized my family was not alone. A lot of people were going through the same thing. Now when I look at my past, and where I am now, I realize that anything is possible, and it’s because of the people who helped.”

Van Lal Lian, 18, Kansas City, telling his story as a refugee from Myanmar
Van Lal Lian, 18, Kansas City, telling his story as a refugee from Myanmar