Mluli’s Story

Mluli has come a long way.

While most suburban American kids fall in love with soccer during orange-slice-and-Gatorade-fueled games on glossy green fields, Mmunga’s passion blossomed out of a tumultuous childhood in Tanzania. Born to Congolese refugee parents, Mluli was just 6 when his father died after years of battling illness. His mother followed shortly after. Mmunga went to live with his grandmother, uncle, and three cousins (who had also lost their parents). His grandmother rose every day at dawn to work on a farm to support them all, sometimes not returning home until midnight. “She’s the bone of the family,” says Mluli. “Everything, honestly, that we achieve is all because she made it happen. She gave us the chance.”

In 2009 the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees helped the family move to Houston. They settled in the Chimney Rock area, but Mmunga, who spoke no English at all, struggled to adjust. Entering Las Américas Newcomer Middle School for sixth grade, he says, “I would have to use my hands to try to explain and show what I wanted. It was difficult. New country, new culture, new language, new everything.”

He began learning English in the school’s ESL program, but quickly discovered a means of connecting outside of the classroom: soccer. The game was transformative for Mmunga and his cousins. “It opened up doors for us,” he says. “We got the opportunity to learn and hang around with other people our age, even though we didn’t know the language.”

First came pickup matches with cousins and neighbors every Saturday in a park near his house. After two years in Las Américas, Mmunga had enough of a grip on English that the school transferred him to Jane Long Academy, a public 6–12 school in Sharpstown, for eighth grade. In his first year at Jane Long, he made the soccer team as a forward. Playing soccer was how he found his American identity.

Feeling lost without a team to be part of after school, he finally decided to take a friend up on an open invitation to join the Amaanah Lions for practice.

Shortly afterward, he became the team’s captain and led the team to a second HFA championship.

Mluli joined Amaanah Services as a mentor in 2020, helping young refugees who were in the same position as him to get a foothold in America.

“I’ve made sure that everything I’ve done, on the field and off the field, is captain material,” Mluli says. “Always set a good example for others to follow.”

  • “At the end of the day, it’s about family.” Mluli Mmunga

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