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'Fugees Family' Provides Hope, Opportunity for Refugee Children in US

The 'Fugees Family' has four soccer teams with 86 boys in the Clarkston, Georgia program started by Luma Mufleh

The 'Fugees Family' has four soccer teams with 86 boys in the Clarkston, Georgia program started by Luma Mufleh

Jordanian-born soccer coach Luma Mufleh runs a refugee support organization called Fugees Family in a community outside of Atlanta, Georgia. The organization has won wide praise for its work in helping refugee children avoid gang violence and drugs by stressing sports and academic success. Now it has caught the attention of Hollywood.

After college, Luma Mufleh was looking for a greater sense of purpose. She had jobs at a café, and as a girls soccer coach in suburban Atlanta, Georgia. But it was a wrong turn into an apartment complex in the refugee community of Clarkston that changed her life.

Luma Mufleh

Luma Mufleh

"Outside in the apartment complex, in the parking lot, there was these boys playing soccer," she said. "And they were out playing without shoes, and they had two little rocks set up as goals, and they were having the time of their life. And when I saw it, it reminded me of home. It reminded me of the way I played soccer - not very organized, not with parents, just outside having fun."

The boys came from different countries and spoke different languages, and Mufleh says joining in their games taught her an important lesson.

"The soccer ball was the common language we had," she said.

That fateful turn was the point that Mufleh says she found her greater sense of purpose. She started to coach the boys, many of them refugees, and along the way came to understand how difficult life was for them.

"There's never been any type of stability or consistency in their life" she said. "So imagine that for a 12, 13-year-old. And they're coming here and they're expected to succeed and make a life of their own. And it's hard. It's really hard to do that if you don't have any of the tools or support systems in place."

In 2006, Mufleh officially became a support system in Clarkston. Along with her friend Tracy Ediger, Mufleh founded the non-profit "Fugees Family" which provides tutoring and academic support as well as athletic instruction to young refugee boys in the area.

"We have four soccer teams with 86 boys in that program. And then we started a middle school program," Mufleh said. "It's a private middle school, 6th through 8th grade right now for 22 boys. And each year we're going to add a grade, and our goal is to have the first private school 6th through 12th grade for refugee kids in the country."

Santino Jerke

Santino Jerke

Sudanese refugee Santino Jerke is enrolled in classes at the Fugees Academy by day, and one of the soccer teams in the evening. He looks at the program as a way to escape the violence that surrounds him.

"At public school I've seen a lot of kids, most of them are in my classroom, like troublemakers, gang members, and if I wasn't here I could have been dragged into being a gang member, and that's not a great thing," he said.

Solomon Roberts

Solomon Roberts

Liberian refugee Solomon Roberts agrees.

"Some people when they come here, they have nothing to do, so they join gangs, and rob people," he said. "So if we come here, she helps us, she makes us read a lot so we can learn."

The story of Mufleh and the Fugees Family has generated wide media interest, including several high profile TV interviews and a book. Now film producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall are preparing a movie script about the program....and Mufleh's life.

The attention hasn't changed her appreciation for the opportunity she has had in the United States.

"Nowhere else in the world would our work be possible," she said. "Like, where else would an Arab Muslim woman be able to coach teenage refugee boys from 28 different countries? It wouldn't happen anywhere else in the world. It is something to be celebrated."

Mufleh says the production company hopes to have a final script ready to begin filming by next summer.