Riak Mabil, 23, a refugee from Sudan who was helped by Lutheran Social Services’ refugee foster care program, will graduate from Central Michigan University May 8.
When he was 13, Riak fled his home in Sudan to join older siblings in a refugee camp in Kenya. By the end of the year, he was on his way to America.
Riak had never seen snow. When his plane landed in Chicago, he asked the woman next to him about the strange bits of white stuff on the ground. In Grand Rapids there was snow everywhere. “I was freezing!” he recalled. Members of a local church met him at the airport with winter wear. He had never had to wear gloves before.
Riak’s foster family lived in Charlotte, south of Lansing. “It was a very caring family. They took very good care of me,” he said. Midway through his sophomore year in high school, Riak went to live with his older brother who had come to the U.S. and was living in Grand Ledge. Riak graduated from Grand Ledge High School in 2005.
As a child he dreamed of getting a college degree, and maybe going farther than that. “Lutheran Social Services helped me with that dream,” he said. He is especially close to his caseworker, Sallie Campbell, who is now a supervisor in the refugee foster care program. Riak said, “She reminds me a lot of my own mother. If any of us refugees had a problem, the first person we called was Sallie.”
At CMU, Riak’s studied public health and joined the athletic program as a runner. He has competed in cross country and indoor and outdoor track since 2007. He was named second-team all-conference for cross country in fall 2008 and MAC Indoor Track and Field Champion in the 5000 meter race in 2009.
He wants to become a US citizen and then visit his home town, Duk, in southern Sudan, where many of his family still live. Then he’d like to go to graduate school – maybe even medical school.