December 19, 2011

Fugees Academy

Luma Mufleh started a soccer team and school for young refugees.

Jessica: That is right! So, refugees are people who are forced to flee their country of origin. They do it because of war, persecution and violence. Leaving their home is the only chance they will have for a better life. But this next story is about someone who took it upon herself to make sure some refugees have more than just a chance.

Luma Mufleh: I turned into this apartment complex, and in the parking lot there were these kids outside playing soccer. And they were playing barefoot, and had set up their own goals, you know, with rocks.

Jessica: Luma Mufleh returned a few days later with a gift for the kids — a soccer ball.

Luma: And the minute I stepped out of my car, the boys rushed me, and they wanted the ball. And I asked to play in return.

Jessica: She soon discovered why these kids seemed different. They were all refugees. It turns out that Clarkston, Georgia is one of 350 cities across the United States where our government helps refugee families find new homes.

Refugees are people who are forced to leave their home countries because of war, violence or persecution. The United Nations says there are about 40 million refugees around the world. Most refugees are women and children, and they usually arrive without much money or other things that they need. For example, in 2009, the United States accepted about 80,000 refugees to live here legally.

Give us a sense of what some of these kids have been through?

“All of them have fled their countries because of war. So, the wars you’ve read about, like the civil war in Sudan, the war in Ethiopia, in Eritrea, in the Congo, in Iraq.”

Jessica: Although they were safe in their new town, these kids were mostly poor and struggled to fit in with their classmates.

Luma hoped that soccer could help them. So with her own money, she formed a team with kids from 28 different countries — “The Fugees,” short for refugees.

The team gave the kids a sense of belonging. But Luma soon realized that they needed even more help off of the soccer field.

Luma: You’d have a kid after practice say, ‘Well, coach, can you help me with my homework?’ You know, the first couple times, I’m like, ‘go get your mom to help you.’ And then I realized their mom can’t read or write English, so they’re coming to me for it. And I kept going for it, you know? At no point did I say, ‘alright, I can’t do this anymore.’

Jessica: Before she knew it, Luma was spending most of her time with the team. In 2007, she quit her job, became their full time teacher, and with donations and her own money, Luma started the Fugees Academy.

Last year, Luma managed to buy 19 acres where she hopes to build a permanent Fugees Academy.

“Soccer field, two practice fields, a gym, a community garden. We just went for it all.”

Jessica: She is trying to raise $5 million this year to pay for the construction.

Luma: I see it as being a private school for refugee boys and girls, grades 6 -12. I see it becoming a national model that shows how to teach refugee kids successfully.

Jessica: By now, you probably realized that Luma leads by example. Which brings us back to the other dream — becoming an American citizen. You see, Luma Mufleh wasn’t born in the United States, but in the middle eastern country of Jordan.

Last month she took the citizenship exam and scored a perfect 100. And with her students watching, Luma Mufleh became an American.

“So help me, God. Congratulations, new citizens!”

Luma: I think a lot of people take being an American for granted. All of us came to this country for a better life, for a fresh start, to live the American dream.

Jessica: Asked what her American citizenship means to her, her answer was simple.

Luma: To finally have a home.

Jessica: A home. Which is what she hopes and expects all her children will have one day soon.

“One, two, three, Fugees!”


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