Imagine starting your school day out with yoga or martial arts; and after a day of academics, everyone – coed – plays soccer together. Now imagine that happening in Bowling Green. For the 115 fortunate students at the Teranga Academy, a partially privately funded satellite school in the BG City School system, that’s how they do school. The Teranga Academy is an English immersion program focused on transitioning students to a new country with trauma-informed practices and culturally responsive teaching. Research shows that yoga helps the body feel better with increased flexibility, toning, and strength, but yoga also helps calm the central nervous system. Calming the nervous system aids in anxiety, stress, and depression – all things these teens new to the United States have endured at levels that we cannot even fathom. 


The founder of the Teranga Academy, Luma Mufleh, a refugee from Jordan, first got involved in Atlanta after seeing refugee kids playing soccer on a field near her neighborhood. She eventually ended up starting a school for them that led to another school in Columbus, Ohio and the third school started here in Bowling Green in 2022. More schools are coming to the nation and other school districts from around the country visit our Teranga Academy.


Last May I heard that the Bowling Green school district was searching for a yoga teacher who would be teaching daily classes at the Teranga Academy. I called them and helped them understand all of the criteria they needed to look for in a yoga teacher. The yoga teacher would also need additional training in Children’s Yoga, as well as Trauma-Informed Yoga. I also knew I had the perfect teacher for them – Liz Heller, a recent graduate of our 200-hour Yoga Alliance-approved teacher training program.

Liz has had a heart for refugees since her family helped various refugee families in Bowling Green when she was growing up. The Teranga program has a soccer program that all students, including the girls, participate in daily. The team went on to win the State Soccer championship this year! Liz has a 13-year-old son involved in soccer who plays on a team with some of the Teranga students. 

Liz often sends me pictures of her Teranga kids from the yoga classes. Her enthusiasm and love for them let me know we picked the right person for the position. Liz often shares funny stories of classroom antics and observations from her interactions with the students. The exchange is full of energy and fun-filled. I have occasionally subbed for Liz, and when I do it’s always fun to see their progress! One picture Liz sent me was of Louise. She wants wants to be a doctor. She comes in to read her Yoga Anatomy book early every morning.


You may wonder, as I did, what is the difference between a refugee and an immigrant? A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. A migrant or immigrant refers to someone who moves to other places in search of work or better living conditions. So if you will, a little bit more of their choice for the immigrant, although many would argue that they too feel as if they have no choice. Both scenarios are very tough and something that we can hardly imagine in our lifetime. 

So, here we are – these children are in our communities and schools- Bowling Green has more languages spoken in our schools than I even knew existed. In the past, the children were simply placed in the school system. Many students were lost in the shuffle with no clue of the culture and customs they encountered, not to mention the language barriers. Be Happy is so honored to be a part of the Teranga program. 


For more information, view the following Ted Talk by Luma Mufleh, founder of the refugee program. This Ted Talk is entitled, Don’t Feel Sorry for Refugees, Believe in Them. It still ranks as one of the most highly viewed Ted Talks – Watch her Ted Talk here. 


One response

  1. We are so fortunate to have a School
    District with a program like this to help our refugee students. We welcome them to Bowling Green and will rejoice in their successes. Liz Heller seems to love her job and respect her students and challenges them to excel.

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