KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A college education opens doors that otherwise would be shut forever – no one knows that more than international students who grew up in war-torn countries.
University of Missouri-Kansas City basketball player Aleer Leek was born in South Sudan and moved with his 20 siblings to North Sudan for safety reasons. The two factions were involved in a decades-long conflict — the longest civil war in Africa’s history.
Leek’s father died when he was 12 and his mother when he was nine.
He said the conflict is over oil, money and power and has displaced millions.
One of his brothers was taking care of him, before a family member introduced him to his high school basketball coach in Florida, who became his guardian.
This allowed Leek to move to the United States when he was 13. Leek said the process to come to the U.S. took about two years.
“There are a thousand kids who want to be in my shoes right now from South Sudan,” said Leek, reflecting on the time he has spent playing basketball at UMKC.
He told 41 Action News his favorite shot is a hook when he’s under the basket or from outside the three-point line.
Leer is a senior on a full-ride to UMKC, but there are several steps international students go through to get accepted, said Mary Parsons, who is the associate director of International Student Affairs at UMKC.
Parsons said out of 17,000 students about 1,000 of them are international.
She said the expenses for one year of education, health insurance, books and supplies, along with room and board is equal to roughly $36,000. In order to get a student visa, students have to prove they have that much equity from their own personal or joint bank accounts.
Students also have to be accepted into a university and provide all the proper paperwork to the government.
“If I didn’t play basketball, I’d probably be working for my brother’s business or struggling like the other kids in Africa,” said Leek. He said he is 23 and for many men his age, there are not many opportunities besides going into business.
At 6’9’’, Leek said he would like to play basketball professionally.
It’s a dream shared by his brother Leek Leek, said Aleer.
His older brother went back to South Sudan to renew his visa and he has not been able to leave the country for two years.
Aleer said that is one of the barriers that has stopped him from leaving the US and visiting home the past decade.
He said everything is easier in the US.
“Opening the water and the water is just clear, clean water. I can drink from it. Lights, stoves,” said Leek.
After graduation, international students can apply for optional practical training, which allows them to work in their field for a year.
They have 90 days to find a job.
If they’d like to stay after that, there is graduate school or their employer can apply for their work visa.
“If you’re leaving a place with any sort of violence or war, you have a family back there that you’re concerned about on a regular basis,” said Mary Parsons. “ Your hope is that by being here, your potential is greater for your safety and what you can accomplish.”
Aleer said he takes it all one day at a time and is focusing on graduating before playing basketball.
“You want your kids to live somewhere safer. You don’t want it to go back and forth. You want for the next generation to live in safer, better place,” said Aleer.
Leer wants his American citizenship and is going to DC on Tuesday to renew his passport.