Amaanah Refugee Services

Houston Refugee News

How a Tanzanian Truly Became an American via the Benefits of Sports

Sports can a beneficial tool in resettlement for new Americans. A study by the National Institutes of Health showed “Participants gain personal and social benefits by pursuing leisure activities in a serious manner within their ethnic in-group.” Just ask Mluli Mmunga, a refugee who emigrated to the US from Tanzania in 2009 and is well aware of the benefits of sports. Soccer became the way he adapted to his new home in Houston. Here’s how Mluli used sports to turn his lifelong passion into a way to acclimate to Houston.

Build Relationships

Mluli lived a life of trauma and hardship in his native country. He came to Houston with the hopes of finding a better life. However, he found building relationships as a new American isn’t easy. He struggled to find people who shared his one passion—soccer. Fortunately, he discovered the Amaanah Lions program, a youth boys league in Houston composed exclusively of refugee youth ages 16-25 that began in 2014 as part of the Universal Soccer League. The team runs training programs, leagues, and tournaments in the local refugee community. While players may come from different cultures with different native languages, the game of soccer is a universal language. The goal of the league is to help teens adapt to their new environment while participating in something familiar. The NIH study revealed individuals have a tendency to form and develop a sense of friendship with other in-group members, who maintain similar cultural understandings. Players can build friendships amongst others in the league who understand their unique situation in their new city, all while playing soccer.

Develop Life Skills

The benefits of sports results in more than just building friendships. Findings revealed that sport and recreation are perceived to be fun, healthy, and helpful in the development of language skills and in providing orientation to the mainstream culture; factors that have been identified elsewhere as key to successful immigration. New Americans are able to develop critical life skills that enable success. Language development is key for assimilation and practicing these skills among team members makes it a more comfortable environment to grow.

Coaches become integral mentors to the athletes. Mluli’s coaches inspire him and the rest of his teammates to not only be the best soccer players, but also the best people they can be. Confidence built through friendships and success is taken off the field and put to use in daily life. Hard work, respect and success all grow from team work on the pitch. Coaches inspire players to appreciate the tremendous opportunities around them as new Americans in Houston. As someone whose life has been defined by adversity, Mluli resonated with being thankful. He’s learned to never take anything for granted, even the simple act of kicking the soccer ball around with teammates.   

Integrate into Houston

New Americans often struggle to integrate into our cities, just like Mluli originally did. However, that changed after joining the Amaanah Lions. Playing weekly soccer games at Bear Creek Pioneer’s Park in Houston gave him a better sense of his physical surroundings and the ability to get around the city he now calls home. Mluli’s teammates became a second family for him, and he finally felt he truly belonged in Houston. His place on the team has made him feel he can accomplish anything and begin to build a better future.

Just as the soccer ball makes its way across the pitch, players are woven together in a team tapestry that makes each player stronger, more confident and closer to feeling home. Sports quite simply has a way of transcending language and cultural divides.

Contact the Amaanah Lions

The Amanaah Lions’ goal is to be a community support system for youths and their families both on and off the field. This is just one of the ways the Lions help new Americans. With Amaanah Refugee Services—especially through the Amanaah Lions—finding your place in America with the benefits of sports has never been easier. Just ask Mluli.