Nobel laureates have to “earn their prize”, the rest doesn’t matter, say secondary school students in one of Stockholm’s deprived suburbs, who will get the chance to meet a winner in December.
Every year since 1992, the Rinkeby School’s third form students have spent a term studying the Nobel Prize, at the end of which they are rewarded with a highly publicized visit by one of the laureates, usually the winner in Literature.
The school is located in Rinkeby, an immigrant-heavy suburb of the Swedish capital that has become a symbol of social segregation.
Rinkeby’s concrete tower blocks mirror the housing found in other European capitals, but despite its reputation, the area — surrounded by greenery — looks well kempt. The school building is modest but the rooms are large and airy.
The 20 students of grade 8A, who are 14 years old, were overjoyed when they found out they had been chosen for the project. The school picks the class that will participate based on potential and motivation.
By taking part in the project, “everyone grows,” says Swedish language teacher Nina Halmkrona. It allows the students to discover new horizons by reading the works of the Literature Prize winner, and to improve their Swedish skills, a language not everyone here masters perfectly.
The students in 8A speak a dozen different languages at home, ranging from Somali, Arabic, Spanish to Wolof. Ninety percent of Rinkeby’s residents are of immigrant background, primarily from Asia and Africa, according to figures from the city of Stockholm.
As part of the project, the students learn about the life of Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor, scholar and philanthropist who created the Nobel prizes in his last will and testament, project coordinator Gunilla Lundgren told AFP.
They also learn about the year’s laureates, with a focus on the literature winner, and work on texts and art that they compile into a pamphlet to give the laureate who visits them in December.
One student, Denya, tells AFP she simply “wanted to participate”.
She says the Nobel should go “to someone you haven’t heard of”, rather than to someone famous, since the prize will put the spotlight on his or her work.
The winner has to “earn” the award, the six students AFP spoke to all agreed.
“It’s not important where the person is from, what matters is whether they have worked hard for it, if they are working for peace,” says Abdulahi.
“I would like to ask him how he did it,” says Constanza in planning for the meeting with a laureate.
“And how he grew up, under what conditions,” adds Bashir.
The Nobel Committee “must think about the conditions under which the person has lived, whether his life was easy or not,” when they award their prize, suggests Denya.
Like all of her classmates, she comes from an immigrant background. Many of them seem to wish that the award would recognise individuals whose lives have been an exceptional journey and who have overcome difficulties, perhaps because they identify with that.
The Nobel Prize in Literature, which will be announced on Thursday, “shouldn’t go to someone young but to someone who can write about everything that’s happened. Someone young has their whole life in front of them, they can have the prize later,” says Abdulahi.
Some of the students’ comments reveal a lack of knowledge about the Nobels, but then again, they are just beginning their studies this term.
“Kofi Annan must receive the Peace Prize,” says Bashir.
“He tries to make contact with everyone and never loses heart.”
Nelson Mandela is also a serious contender for the prize, the six teenagers say, seemingly unaware that Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 while Annan won it in 2001.
As for the Nobel Prize in Literature, no names come to the students’ minds.
But Lundgren, who has since 1992 headed up the project with Rinkeby School at her own initiative because she wants to pass on her passion for books to young people, hopes it will go to Nuruddin Farah from Somalia.
The students have yet to decide whether to read one of the winner’s complete works.
“That depends on whether we understand,” they say.
When you read a book, “you should know from the beginning (what happens), you shouldn’t have to struggle and then find out in the middle of the book,” says Denya.
Lundgren says the students will read the 2012 Nobel Literature laureate just as their predecessors last year read the poems of Tomas Tranströmer.