Organizations:The Fugees Academy
A YouTube video for the Fugees Academy went viral on the power of its message and the charisma of its young pitchman, Mohamud.
The Somali refugee overcomes a fit of camera-shy giggling to explain with great dignity how he struggled in an Atlanta public school and was about to be held back in the fourth grade when he was 12 years old. “I was the only kid in the class who could not speak English,” he says. “I was watching the other kids learn. I could not even write a complete sentence.”
Children Of War: Then he transferred to The Fugees Academy, the country’s first and only school designed for refugee children. Launched in 2006 in a house rented from a Methodist church, it has an enrollment of 22 boys in the sixth through eighth grades, with plans to add a grade each year, and, eventually, female students, until it becomes a comprehensive private high school serving Clarkston, a federal resettlement zone for an estimated 60,000 survivors of war and strife from 150 different ethnic groups.
“The entire curriculum is very language-intensive with an emphasis on reading, writing, speaking and vocabulary, even in the math components,” says Founder Luma Mufleh. “The classes will be kept small, with six to 11 students in each one, so the students get more individual attention and are held more accountable.”
Team Spirit: The school grew out of The Fugees Family, an ever-expanding, nonprofit franchise of athletic, academic and social betterment that has inspired a book, Outcasts United, and a movie script. It all started with a simple ballgame, explains Mufleh.
In 2004, she observed a diverse gaggle of shoeless boys playing soccer with rocks for goal posts, and she felt inspired to organize a team, playfully christened The Fugees.
“The soccer ball was the common language,” says Mufleh, who grew up in Jordan, “but the more involved I became with them on the field, the more I became aware of their bigger needs for stability.”
Bigger Goals: Along with directing the Academy, she coaches four select club teams of 86 boys from war zones such as Afghanistan, Burma and Sudan in a sports regimen that also mandates academic tutoring, strict standards of conduct and comportment (no baggy pants!) and mentoring events for younger children – all geared toward self-respect and personal growth.
As for Mohamud, he just made an “A” on a three-page essay. “I am a Fugee!” he says, thumping his wiry chest.