Outcasts United/ posted in: Reading Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town by Warren St. John
Published by Spiegel & Grau on April 21st 2009
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“Clarkston, Georgia, was a typical Southern town until it was designated a refugee settlement center in the 1990s, becoming the first American home for scores of families in flight from the world’s war zones—from Liberia and Sudan to Iraq and Afghanistan. Suddenly Clarkston’s streets were filled with women wearing the hijab, the smells of cumin and curry, and kids of all colors playing soccer in any open space they could find. The town also became home to Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman who founded a youth soccer team to unify Clarkston’s refugee children and keep them off the streets. These kids named themselves the Fugees.
Set against the backdrop of an American town that without its consent had become a vast social experiment, Outcasts United follows a pivotal season in the life of the Fugees and their charismatic coach.”
Luma Mufleh came from a wealthy Jordanian family. She was disowned when she decided to stay in the United States after college. Several years later, she was coaching a girls’ under 12 soccer team and running a failing business in Decatur GA when a chance trip took her to nearby Clarkston. She didn’t understand why she saw so many non-white residents. After investigating, she decided to coach youth soccer teams for refugee boys.
This is the story of the Fugees’ 2006 season. Luma is very demanding of her players. They have to adhere to a code of conduct and soccer practice starts with mandatory tutoring sessions. There are three teams – under 13s, under 15s, and under 17s. Each has their own unique sets of challenges.
The overarching problem is finding a place to practice. They are stuck on a dirt and gravel field frequented by drug users. There is a fenced field in a local park but the mayor has declared that NO soccer will be played there because the field is for use only by Clarkston’s Little League baseball teams. It doesn’t matter that there are no Little League baseball teams in Clarkston.
The players come from all over the world. Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Iraq, Kosovo, and many other countries are represented. Most of the children have seen horrors. Now they are in a town that isn’t friendly to them and they just want to play soccer.
The book tells the story of the town also. How did it become a popular place for refugees? How is the town adapting or failing to adapt to a changing population?
The book was published in 2009 and contains an afterword that discusses what happened after the 2006 season. One of the things mentioned was that when the author, who was a newspaper reporter, published some articles the Fugees started to get donations. He mentioned that Luma’s goal was to buy some land so they could have a dedicated place to practice that was safe. She also said that she dreamed of having good facilities for tutoring times.
I went online to see what had happened since then. Look at this!
They don’t just have practice fields. They started a school! The middle school serves to teach English as a second language and to get kids whose formal schooling has been interrupted up to speed to go to American schools. They also have a high school. It is now coed. They accept donations so the kids don’t have to pay for this private education.
It was great to see that the program prospered after all the abuse they endured.
I’d recommend this book to everyone. The stories of the families fleeing from war zones around the world are heartbreaking. They put a personal touch on events that we hear about on the news and then forget about. Would you be able to survive what they did just to come to a new country where everyone seems to hate you?