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Class of ’97 alumna unites refugee children

Luma Mufleh '97 was awarded a 2010 Smith Medal for her work with the Fugees.

Luma Mufleh ’97, graduated from Smith College with a degree in anthropology, moved to Atlanta, and held a number of odd jobs post-graduation.  While in Georgia, Luma noticed a diverse group of boys playing soccer in the street just for the enjoyment of the game, as they didn’t have much equipment. As an immigrant from Jordan, Luma was reminded of home.

Following the sighting, Luma created flyers in Arabic, English, French, and Vietnamese announcing tryouts for a soccer team, then posted them near apartment complexes where refugees lived. The result was a team of boys from more than two dozen war-torn countries who were given free access to organized soccer.

That team became The Fugees (short for “Refugees”), and has since blossomed into Fugees Family, Inc., a non-profit organization devoted to working with child survivors of war. The organization now provides year-round soccer for 86 boys and girls aged 10-18, after-school tutoring and soccer for 50 elementary-aged students, a private academy serving 36 students, and an academic enrichment summer camp.

Luma and the Fugees Family use “the power of soccer to galvanize [the] kids by giving them the support and structure they need to realize their vast potential.” They provide “a space for the kids to heal and meet others like them, from different countries, who have been through similar experiences.”

Luma acknowledges her players are sometimes wary of others in the beginning, but that through drills they learn to cooperate and learn that “they all play on the same team, finding their commonalities instead of focusing on their differences. Their bonds make them more secure in their own identity and more capable of acclimating to the mainstream.”

Luma’s story has made her a popular public speaker, and the story of the soccer players has inspired a great deal of media coverage. In 2009, New York Times reporter Warren St. John published Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference, and rights to the story were purchased by Universal Studios, who will make a major motion picture.  Luma and her soccer players have also been featured in coverage by major media outlets including CBS, CNN, ESPN, NBC, The New York Times, NPR, and Sports Illustrated.

In 2010, Luma was awarded the Smith College Medal for her extraordinary professional achievements and outstanding service to her community.  She continues to develop programming and opportunties for immigrants and refugees.   You can follow Coach Luma Mufleh on Twitter, or visit  FugeesFamily.org.

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