“Fugees” soccer coach brings refugee crisis discussion to IU Southeast

24th September 2015
Luma Mufleh, coach of the Fugees refugee soccer team, speaks to the IU Southeast community at the Ogle Center.

Luma Mufleh, coach of The Fugees refugee soccer team, speaks to the IU Southeast community at the Ogle Center.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. — The European refugee crisis currently dominating international headlines landed close to home for the IU Southeast community on Tuesday, Sept. 22.

In an address called “Changing the World One Game at a Time,” Luma Mufleh, a native of Jordan and coach of a refugee soccer team called “The Fugees,” spoke to IU Southeast students on Tuesday in the Stem Concert Hall of the Ogle Center as part of the university’s Common Experience program. She shed light on the plight her student-athletes deal with on a daily basis in their town of Clarkston, Ga. — from the discrimination and isolation in the community to their struggles to keep up in traditional classrooms to the food shortages they face at home.

Mufleh founded the Fugees Family, Inc., a non-profit organization devoted to working with child survivors of war, in 2006. The Fugees program serves refugee boys and girls ages 11-18 who attend twice-weekly soccer practices, play games on weekends and participate in tournaments. The team was the subject of Warren St. John’s 2009 book: Outcasts United: An American Town, A Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference

The student-athletes also attend a special school called the Fugees Academy, which serves 91 students from grades 6-11. They come from more than 24 war-torn countries from around the world, such as Burma, Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba, Sudan, Bosnia, Somalia and Congo.

“My kids are set up for failure from Day 1,” Mufleh said. “They’re expected to do algebra when they couldn’t add. They’re expected to discuss Shakespeare when they couldn’t read.”

Luma Mufleh

Luma Mufleh

She shared stories about her team as images of the boys and girls playing soccer flashed on a projection screen behind her. There was “One Shoe,” a refugee boy who earned his nickname because he only had one shoe, which he wore on his kicking foot. There was a young Muslim girl who was called a terrorist because she wore a hijab.

Through it all, her student-athletes’ love of the game endures.

“I think sport is an escape for a lot of people,” she said. “Soccer, for our population, is our sport to go to. I also think it reminds them of home in a good way. Soccer doesn’t have negative connotations for them, it’s positive. And they’re also really good at it.”

Following Mufleh’s presentation, she opened up the floor for discussion. IU Southeast students and faculty asked her questions ranging from Mufleh’s greatest moment as a soccer coach to how she anticipates the incoming influx of resettled refugees impacting demand for her program. As the U.S. prepares to accept at least 10,000 Syrian civil war refugees, one student asked Mufleh how she could help.

“Working in your neighborhood, in your community, you can impact change around you,” Mufleh said. “So if everybody did that, if everybody worked in their community, the entire country would be a better place. You don’t have to come to Georgia if you’re determined to work with refugees.”

“Don’t live within the confines of your bubble,” she told the audience. “Raise your voices on behalf of those who have no voice.”

“Changing the World One Game at a Time” was part of a series of Common Experience events hosted by IU Southeast throughout the 2015-16 academic year under the theme of “Building Communities in a Global Society.” The Common Experience will host the Kentucky Refugee Ministries on Wednesday, Oct. 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. on the third floor of the IU Southeast Library for a discussion titled “Refugee Adjustment to Life in American Communities.”

The Kentucky Refugee Ministries assist refugees who have been legally admitted to the United States as victims of warfare or other forms of persecution because of their religious or political beliefs.

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