Letter from Stockholm
November 30, 2011
One stop before the end of a metro line going west out of Stockholm is a community that seems to be falling off the map.
Not many Stockholm residents have made the 20-minute journey out to the suburb of Tensta. It is perceived to have a very high crime rate and not much to offer.
Hiding behind this negative perception is a vibrant community. The residents come from all corners of the world. A staggering 86.6% of the community has a non-Swedish background.1 Of these residents, 81.5% come from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.2
They are often called the ‘New Swedes’. But as they try to establish a new life in a new country, they face many hurdles.
Recently I met eleven ‘New Swedes’ from Tensta at the community center. I was joined by colleagues who were in town for other sessions and who took time out of their agenda to join.
Raghe Abdirahman, Director of the Somali Programme and Jabril Abdulle, Director of Center for Research and Dialogue (CRD) in Mogadishu gave the audience an update on the peace-building work in the Horn of Africa while Johan Svensson, Regional Director for Eastern and Central Africa briefed the audience on our other work. Sarah Noble, Chief of Staff and Director of External Relations shared the details about Interpeace’s approach.
After the briefing, the focus of the discussion came to be on the challenges youth face around the world, and in particular those faced by the youth of Tensta.
Abdi, 19 years old, who arrived in Sweden without any family two years ago, expressed his frustration.
“I’m buckling down. I just have to get my grades at school, but then there is no guarantee for a job,” stresses Abdi. “It’s easy to be instantly labeled as yet another immigrant without having the chance to demonstrate my added value that comes from my background.”
Despite the fact that Abdi has embraced his new language and his new culture, he is very candid about the challenges ahead.
“It’s difficult for people like me to keep our hopes up and keep going.” Abdi stresses. Then his smile takes over: “But I’m a lucky one. I have a network of people from the other side of town who are helping me every step of the way.”
Abdi’s story is unusual. The harsh reality is the majority of youth in Tensta quickly lose hope.
But there are a group of students who are looking to change the situation. Inspired and driven, a handful of Tensta students have formed a group called Love Tensta. They have a clear mission: to make Tensta the district of hope. Suleman, one of the founders of this group explains: “We go to a job center to find a job. But where do you go to find hope? Our goal is to fill this gap – to give back hope, respect and the belief that there is a bright future ahead. We are looking to take it to the next level.”
The Love Tensta team has been forging ahead. “We’re proud to have one of the most innovative schools in our community – the Ross Tensta Gymnasium. We learn the importance of fusing education, responsibility and community service together. Our group has a specific programme: Monday is ‘help the young ones with their homework night’ and Saturday we get successful business people out to Tensta to share how they got where they are now.”
Tord Magnuson, Chairman – European Chapter of the World’s President Organization (WPO) champions the Saturday initiative. “Success doesn’t come instantly because it’s a tough journey for anyone. We get business leaders out to Tensta to share just how bumpy their own road has been. These sessions are a ‘win-win’ for everyone. We get a chance to get to know an exciting, diverse and the vibrant ‘new swede’ community out there. The students in Tensta expand their network into the job-market and into their new society. These sessions showcase what people in Tensta can offer. I rarely meet people living in Tensta who cannot operate in multicultural environments and speak fewer than four languages. That’s impressive!”
Head of Communications