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January 26, 2007

Alumna Soccer Coach to Speak About Her Team of Refugees

Photo op: On Feb. 7, Smith will present Luma Mufleh with the Award of Distinction for her contributions to her community and sport during halftime at the 7 p.m. basketball game against Clark University in the Ainsworth Gymnasium.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—Smith College alumna Luma Mufleh ‘97, a soccer coach in Georgia whose work with a team of refugees from war-torn countries recently received national attention, will speak at the college on Thursday, Feb. 8.

Mufleh will talk about her experiences as a coach at 7 p.m. in Graham Auditorium, Hillyer Hall, Brown Fine Arts Center, an event that is free and open to the public. Following her speech, she will take questions from the audience.

The 31-year-old Jordanian recently caught the nation’s attention when she was profiled in the New York Times. The Jan. 20 article, written by Warren St. John, carried the headline “Refugees Find Hostility and Hope on Soccer Field.”

“Their presence seems to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others,” wrote St. John of the players who make up Mufleh’s team, the Fugees (short for refugees). “The Fugees’ coach exemplifies the best.”

Mufleh formed the boys’ soccer team in Clarkston in 2004 after learning about the town’s growing refugee population. Refugees make up about half of the population of the once mostly white town.

“Some have endured unimaginable hardship to get here: squalor in refugee camps, separation from siblings and parents. One saw his father killed in their home,” wrote St. John. Of Mufleh he noted, “A woman volunteering in a league where all the other coaches are men, some of them paid former professionals from Europe, she spends as much time helping her players’ families make new lives here as coaching soccer.”

After learning of the low wages some of her players’ mothers were earning as maids, Mufleh started a cleaning company to employ them in the same work at higher wages. She also helped translate government paperwork for the families.

At the same time, the local government made it difficult for her to coach. Mufleh was forced to battle the town for a practice field for her soccer team—a battle that had not been resolved by the time the newspaper article was published.

Donna R. Divine, Morningstar Family Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of Government at Smith, will moderate the question-and-answer session following Mufleh’s talk.

“Luma was the kind of student who was always willing to listen carefully to opposing viewpoints; she took her time assessing arguments and gathering the relevant information,” said Divine. “When she formed her views, she argued for them forcefully and held her ground well.”

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation’s foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from nearly every state and 61 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country.

Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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