Monday, December 07, 2009

Fugee Founder Encourages Students to Respect Differences, Follow Dreams

A local celebrity, whose story has just been published in a book and purchased by a movie production company, talked to Rising Starr Middle students last week about respecting individual differences and finding life’s true purpose.

Soccer coach Luma Mufleh, founder of the Fugees (short for refugees) soccer team in Clarkston, Georgia, spent an hour telling students about her childhood in Amman, Jordan and her journey to find her life’s true purpose. Along the way she was forced her into bankruptcy and disowned by her parents, but in the end found happiness and fulfillment.

Mufleh left Jordan after graduating high school to attend Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. After college she worked in several different states and eventually settled in Clarkston. One day on her way home, she saw refugee boys playing soccer in the street. Mufleh, a soccer coach and former player, decided to start a soccer program just for refugee boys. She also made a commitment to help their families assimilate into their new lives in America.

Not happy with her decision to stay in the United States and start a refugee soccer program, her wealthy parents disowned her, leaving Mufleh to struggle to make ends meet, just like the families she pledged to help.

“I was never truly happy and I didn’t have a purpose until I decided to form the team. This is my purpose. My challenge to you is to look inside yourself and find your true meaning. It might not be the road that has been mapped out for you,” she told the students.

Mufleh’s presentation was part of the school’s eighth grade Survivor Program, which is wrapping up its second nine weeks with a focus on understanding of and respect for individual differences.
Mufleh receives many invitations to speak but only agrees to do four engagements a year.

“I am a soccer coach, not a speaker. But I love working with children so I was happy to accept this opportunity to talk to the students at Rising Starr,” she said.

The Fugee players come from 18 war-torn countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Congo, Somalia and Sudan. Many of them have endured unimaginable hardships before coming to America: squalor in refugee campus, separation from parents and siblings and witnessing killings of family members.

Several years after the Fugees formed in 2004, the soccer league now has four traveling teams and has become highly recognized by soccer enthusiasts. In conjunction with the team, Mufleh has also formed the Fugees Family, a nonprofit organization devoted to working with survivors of war and helping them transition to life in America. The organization also provides tutoring, assistance with housing, and health and educational programming.

Mufleh was recently selected as one of the 2009 Common Ground award recipients and was featured on NBC and MSNBC. The award is presented to individuals who have made outstanding accomplishments in conflict resolution, negotiation, community building, and peace building.

Additionally, a book has just been released titled, “Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, An American Town,” and Universal Pictures struck a $3 million deal to make movie about the Fugee’s story.

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