Highlights of History
Luma Mufleh created the Fugees family to help refugee children
Football helps bridge the gap for children struggling to fit in
Mufleh opened a school for refugee students in grades 6-12
A wrong turn changed Luma Mufleh’s life.
“I was driving to Clarkston, Georgia to visit a Middle Eastern grocery store,” she said. “When I got home, I missed my turn and had to transform into this apartment complex. I saw these children outside playing football. They were playing in the streets with goalposts and barefoot with a tattered soccer ball. It reminded me of how I grew up playing soccer on the streets of Jordan.
Mufleh came to the United States at the age of 18 to attend college. “I always felt like a stranger and could relate to them,” she said.
A few days later, she returned to the apartment complex, this time with a soccer ball. The experience led her to form her first football team for refugee boys.
“We had 30 children on the first day. And that’s how it all started. It was very popular, ”she said. They didn’t have uniforms for their first match, so Mufleh haggled for discounted white T-shirts.
“With a Sharpie everyone wrote their numbers and names and wrote Fugees on them. It was our first uniform, ”she said.
But Mufleh soon realized that what these kids needed was beyond the soccer field. She found herself helping the children with their homework.
“I went from apartment to apartment helping the kids with their homework and eventually started an after-school tutoring program. What I realized from teaching them is that it was just a band-aid solution, ”she said. “Something bigger than after school had to happen.”
Mufleh started the Fugees Family, a nonprofit organization, and then opened a private school for refugees called Fugees Academy in 2007.
“When it started I was a bit overwhelmed. I was like, ‘How am I going to do this?’ I am not a director. I am not an educator, but I am a coach, ”she said. “I’m good at building teams and I’m good at making groups of people work and finding a goal that we all want to achieve. ”
She achieved her goal and made school a reality.
“Usually our students have been in this country for less than three or four months when they first arrived. Most of them fled war and unimaginable horrors. They have never been to a school before. They have been in refugee camps, ”she said.
The academy has small classes so that students can get more individualized attention and learn the basics of reading, writing, and math.
“We have children who come here who cannot read when they enter school. And in four years, they hand out five-page essays that are very well written, ”she said.
Students come from various countries including Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“On paper, they should fail. They have every excuse for failing. They come from a foreign country, they have not received any formal education, they live in poverty and their parents are illiterate, ”she said. “That’s a statistic for a child who will never finish high school. And these kids are going to finish high school.
The academy has nearly 80 students, who are enrolled in grades 6 to 12. In addition to after-school tutoring, the Fugees family also includes soccer programs for boys and girls ages 10-18 and an academic summer camp.
“I love to see children come to life,” she said. “Teachers always talk about the light in the eyes of a child. And the most heartbreaking part is when that light is no longer there. And I don’t see that. I see this light everyday and love it.
Fartun Hassan, a former student of the academy, said she liked the school because the classes were small. For her, Mufleh was more than a trainer and a teacher. “She’s like a mother to us,” she said.
Despite the success of her students, Mufleh said she could not always protect them from the prejudices that exist in the world. Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, she has witnessed a certain anti-refugee sentiment towards her students.
In a recent letter of appeal to supporters of the Fugees family, Mufleh expressed his concern. “I try to protect my children when I can; I don’t want them to see more hate and ignorance than they’ve ever experienced, ”she wrote.
Mufleh’s goal is to continue to provide a safe environment for its students to learn and grow.
“We are Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus. We are Arabs, Africans and Asians, ”she wrote. “We are refugees. In short: we are Americans.