University of Delaware
Luma Mufleh, coach of "The Fugees," which is short for "refugees.

Nov. 14: 'Fugees' soccer coach

Inspiring story of refugee soccer team comes to UD


11:04 a.m., Nov. 4, 2011--A presentation by Luma Mufleh, the inspirational coach of the soccer team called “The Fugees” -- short for “refugees” -- who was featured in The New York Times bestseller Outcasts United, will kick off International Education Week at the University of Delaware on Monday, Nov. 14. The talk will begin at 3:30 p.m. in the Trabant Theatre, located in UD’s Trabant University Center at 17 W. Main St. in Newark. It is free and open to the public.

An immigrant from Jordan, Mufleh moved to Atlanta a year and a half after graduating from Smith College. While driving through Clarkston, Ga., she noticed a group of boys of many nationalities playing soccer in the street. They played without some of the most basic equipment, but they played for the sheer enjoyment of the game, reminding her of home.

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In the summer of 2004, she made fliers announcing tryouts for a soccer team. The flyers were in Arabic, English, French and Vietnamese and were distributed around apartment complexes where many refugees lived. 

Mufleh quickly realized that the needs of this particular team were going to be unique. In addition to the challenges faced by every preteen and teenager, the players on this team were dealing with post-traumatic stress issues, language barriers, cultural disconnects and devastating poverty as their economic reality.

The players on Mufleh’s team come from 28 war-torn countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Congo, Somalia and Sudan. Most have endured unimaginable hardship: one young boy was forced by soldiers to shoot his own best friend, another watched his father shot to death and all have been robbed of their childhood.

The remarkable story of how these players, with Mufleh at the helm, find ways to connect and cohere across broad cultural divides and often strong local resentment, is documented in Outcasts United, written by New York Times reporter Warren St. John. The book focuses not only on the inspirational journey of Mufleh and the refugees, but also on the lessons the story provides on how we build community in environments in which people seem to have little in common. The story is being made into a motion picture by Universal Studios.

Mufleh has created several businesses to gainfully employ refugees and immigrants in her community. In 2004, she created Fresh Start, a cleaning service that pays refugee and immigrant parents a living wage to clean residential and commercial properties. In 2010, she began Queen Food Company, a food truck business employing parents and graduates, which focuses on authentic, ethnic street food. 

Mufleh’s latest endeavor is building the Fugees Academy, the first school for refugee boys and girls in the U.S.

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