Empowering refugee children is personal for Luma Mufleh. The daughter and granddaughter of Syrian refugees, Luma grew up in Amman, Jordan, where she one of the only Arab students in her class at an American school, and one of the only girls who played on her soccer team. As a young adult in a country where being gay was considered a crime, Luma came out to her parents and was disowned. Eventually granted asylum in the US, Luma navigated the broken immigration system to build a life for herself, finishing college, opening a coffee shop, and coaching soccer. Through the non-profit she founded in 2006, Fugees Family, Luma has helped nearly 1,200 vulnerable refugee children from more than 22 countries. At their Fugees Academy schools, the US’s first network of accredited school for refugees, students learn, heal, and grow through a unique educational model and required participation in playing and coaching soccer. With a growing network of schools, Luma is empowering refugee children to use their voices to reclaim and tell their own stories - shifting the narrative around refugees away from the current fear-mongering frame to one of courage, resilience, and creative potential.
In 2019, Luma was named an Emerson Collective Dial Fellow and a Manhattan Institute Civil Society Fellow.
We all experience powerful life-changing moments, mine began with a wrong turn when I found a group of boys playing soccer and joined them. I cobbled together a team, called the Fugees, over a decade ago. We competed all over Georgia. At first, I expected to be involved in their lives as a coach; never did I think that these kids would become my extended family. One day during my first season, I was dropping a kid home when I looked over at him and noticed he was holding his stomach.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "I am hungry," he responded.
"Don't worry about it, you'll be home soon and you can get something to eat." I responded, thinking that he was trying to get me to pick up some fast food for him.
"No, there is no food at home," he reported.
I struggled to understand, "There must be something, bread, cheese..."
"No, Coach, it's that time of the month."
"Time of the month?" Later I found out that "time of the month" means the time the food stamps run out. That night I walked him to his apartment. Inside, it was complete darkness. I looked for food, but there was none. Instead, I found his mother huddled in the corner of the living room, rocking back and forth, shaking her head, and muttering, "I work hard every day, every day I work."
After buying groceries and trying to draw a budget for his family (and failing miserably), I realized that I had barely scratched the surface. I felt so naive and helpless. Children living less than five miles away were going to bed hungry, because their parents weren't getting paid enough to make ends meet.
This is just one of many experiences with my players that has completely changed the way I see the world. The past ten years have been a wonderful yet terrifying journey led by the children I coach, who guide me and keep me accountable every day for the decisions I make. It is because of them that I have founded the Fugees Family, and it is for them that I ask you to join our family.