| Alumni Profile • Tracy Ediger '95
One of the family
Tracy Ediger '95 manages four youth soccer teams in Clarkston, Ga. She secures equipment, schedules playing fields and referees, and drives the team bus. She also tutors the players in math and English, takes them to doctors' appointments, and helps their parents budget meager incomes and negotiate scores of other daily-life-in-America tasks. It's more than a 50- to 60-hour-a-week job. It's a family—the Fugees Family.
In the past 20 years, about 2,000 refugees each year, most of them from camps in countries such as Afghanistan and Sudan, have been resettled in Atlanta, usually in small towns like Clarkston, east of Atlanta. The refugees receive 90 days of government assistance, and then they're on their own.
"It's really sobering, all that it takes to survive in the U.S.," Ediger said of the refugee families she works with. They come with little or no knowledge of English, let alone computers, ATMs and shopping malls.
Ediger was introduced to the community of world refugees at Jubilee Partners, an intentional Christian community in Comer, Ga., which welcomes refugees for a two-month stay before they're resettled. A volunteer at Jubilee for parts of 2004, 2005 and 2006, Ediger grew close to a Congolese woman and her six children and visited them after they were resettled. Two of the boys had joined a soccer team called the Fugees, and they introduced Ediger to their coach.
By the summer of 2006, that coach—Jordanian-born Luma Mufleh—had invited Ediger to help her realize her vision of a more formal support system for the Fugees and their families. Last October they registered a nonprofit organization, Fugees Family, to do just that.
Fugees Family still has soccer at its center: now three select teams for boys ages 9 to 17 and one team for girls 10 to 14. All sign a 12-point contract that commits them to not only abstain from drugs, alcohol and bad language, but also to attend 90-minute tutoring sessions four days a week after practice. Composed of players who come to tryouts in hiking boots or flip-flops, the Fugees contend against opponents whose parents pour thousands of dollars per player per year into equipment, coaching and camps. And the Fugees win-a lot.
"Their lives here are hard," Ediger said, "and as survivors of war they've seen horrific things. But they're resilient and tough. Playing soccer gives our kids an outlet, a chance to be normal kids and to be good at something. It also gives us an opportunity to encourage them to work at their academics and improve their behavior. We use soccer as a tool to help them grow into responsible adults."
Ediger concedes that the extent of their involvement in players' lives makes her and Mufleh like "supplemental parents. It's strange to explain in Western culture, where we are so individualistic." But it's not strange at all, she says, in the cultures from which Fugees come. There the village really does raise the child.
The village also helps the whole family, which explains why soon after Mufleh began coaching the soccer team she also started a for-profit cleaning business, Fresh Start, to employ Fugee parents at a livable wage. It explains why the nonprofit Fugees Family, besides academic tutoring, also offers classes in job skills and health, and why a task force is investigating better housing options.
In short, Fugees find every dimension of their lives embraced by the Family, because, Ediger said, "after spending time with these kids you want the best for them in every way."
Learn more about Fugees Family at www.fugeesfamily.org.
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