by Andrew King, EI Media & Communications Coordinator

When Noor Adam stood at the front of the room, perfectly composed and calm wearing a stylish wool coat to speak with union leaders and the minister of education, it was hard not to be impressed by the 14-year-old from Ethiopia. And then he spoke.
Having lived in Sweden since he was 11, Noor was wise well beyond his teenage years. In Swedish he recounted his harrowing journey that took him from conflict in Ethiopia to what must have seemed a world away in Sweden. With a mother too sick to care for him and his father nowhere in sight, he was forced to fend for himself at the age of eight. Unable to afford school fees, Noor endured physical abuse at the hands of those much older than him. Then, one day, he fled.
“Sweden provides second chances,” he said, although challenges remain. “I longed to go to school.”
An education, once out of the question for the aspiring football player before arriving in Stockholm, little did he know how much his life would change. Now, after moving from school to school, he has settled into one of the most incredible places I have ever experienced: Fryshuset.
Located in the south of Stockholm, Fryshuset is a living, breathing social project. From its roots as a youth centre launched by Anders Carlberg in 1984, the onetime slaughterhouse has expanded far beyond the vision of its founder.

“Young people through passion can change the world”

Today, Fryshuset, which welcomes 40,000 visitors a month, is home to both a primary and secondary school, which host 1,200 students, in addition to its incredible sports and youth centre. This is a place that does not judge where children are from, or where on the economic spectrum they hail. At the heart of the project is passion. Students combine their studies with sport, dance, arts and music. Teachers and staff believe that preparing young people for life goes far beyond the classroom.
In Sweden for Education International’s Refugee Education Conference, I joined EI’s General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, the President of the Swedish teachers’ union Lararforbundet, Johanna Jaara Astrand, and the Minister of Education, Gustav Fridolin, who once worked at Fryshuset, for a tour of what is known as the ‘world’s largest youth centre.’
What began as an initiative to help society, just keeps on growing. Staff told us that Fryshuset is the place to come for people who don’t fit in. Migrants, refugees, children with learning challenges and those who far exceed the norm, it is a place to belong. The goal of the centre and schools is inclusion – to allow all to be a part of the bigger group, whether in the classroom, on the basketball court or in society at large.
When Sweden was pressed to find accommodation for scores of refugee families, the centre opened its doors to more than 300 people to sleep in the gymnasium where the place and its people infused the newcomers with energy. Every day, for three days, 100 refugee children danced outside together to music. Here, passion creates passion.
When immigrant students arrive at Fryshuset, they enter an intensive language programme, but are always integrated with regular students. At these schools, no one is left out.
After Noor spoke with us, it was Angel Bahrami’s turn. At 16, the Iranian-born aspiring politician spent seven years at the school before moving on to complete her studies. But she says that she probably still spends just as much time at the centre now. For Angel, a high-achieving student, her love of books and study quickly led to bullying at previous schools. Fryshuset changed that.
“Everyone is treated equally,” she said, adding that the centre and the school have “changed me as a person.” Admitting that she was once terrified of speaking in public, the now confident and well-spoken young woman says that Fryshuset teaches students how to deal with life. “It’s not just about good grades. You need to know what to do with them.” After listening to both Noor and Angel, it is clear that the centre is preparing youth for far more than just tests.
As I walked back to the main foyer to call a taxi, young people gathered around a lounge area, full of couches with a stage against the far wall. Hip hop blasted from the speakers and teens danced. A mix of nationalities, ages, languages, and passions all coming together without judgement. As one young man from Afghanistan approached me for a photo, his proof of meeting a Canadian, it was really me who wanted to be in a photo with him. To stick around and really learn something.