A voice for newcomers in Sweden

Brilliant 10-year-old Reem: 'I want to be a businesswoman but I don’t care about money'

Published: 24.Aug.2016 14:21 hrs

Everyone at her asylum centre knows Reem Edlbi as “the genius kid” with a head for numbers and a knack for talking to adults. She tells The Local about her love for pretty much everything and everyone, especially her sick brother and her dad back in Lebanon.

When she was two years old, Reem memorized her dad’s phone number, then learned by heart all the numbers in her parents’ contact book, her mother recalls. And this sense that she has always been quick to learn has persisted over the years. 

“I always felt like she’s older than her age; she holds discussions with adult on topics that are not usually comprehensible or relevant for a kid of her age.”

‘Her brother calls her mum’ 

Back in Lebanon Reem’s teachers had always said she was one of the best pupils in school and would tell her mother she hardly even needed to attend parent-teacher meetings since the reviews were similarly glowing each time. 

The bright little girl seemed set to breeze through her school years in Beirut. But when Reem’s little brother Omar was born with multiple cardiovascular problems two and a half years ago, everything changed for the family. 

Worried that she couldn’t get him the surgery he needed in Beirut, Reem’s mother left for Sweden with the baby and her two girls, Reem and Racha, who is now seven years old. 

“When you have a child in this kind of situation you do what you can to protect him,” she says. 

Since the move, the eldest child has stepped in to help her mother out whenever possible.  

“She knows that her brother is sick, so she takes care of him – he even calls her mum.” 

Build it and they will come 

The prodigious 10-year-old learned Swedish quickly and now has lots of friends in her new home. 

“My school is very nice; I have English, Swedish, mathematics and drawing lessons. We eat, draw and play,” she says.

“My favourite class is drawing, and I do sports and gymnastics as well. I love school!”

She dreams of a future career in the construction industry.

“I want to become a businesswoman, because I like to build houses and paint them – and I don’t care about money. This is just something I love.” 

Anyone who questions her financial acumen might do well to remember that some of the most successful entrepreneurs are driven by their passions, not the fullness of their pockets.

Another passion of hers is food, and she has a special fondness for salmon, sushi, spaghetti, and black tea sweetened almost beyond recognition with heaped spoonfuls of sugar. 

She also cherishes the friends she has made so far in Sweden. 

“In summer time I have so much fun with my friends. We can swim. My best friends are Lana and Reem, and I love them so much.”

‘My dad is more important to me than Sweden’ 

But while she enjoys her life in Sweden, she admits to missing her father, who stayed behind to work in Lebanon. 

Every day, “almost every minute”, she chats to him on FaceTime. 

“Whenever I see or hear a plane, I wish my dad was one of the passengers on board,” she says. 

Reem says her greatest hope is for her father to be able to rejoin the rest of the family soon. 

“I won’t stay here if he can’t come to us. To put it honestly: my dad is more important to me than Sweden. I love him.” 

The next step for the family is to move away from the asylum centre, where the children’s mother has found it tricky to maintain the routines and structure they had before. 

“The situation is kind of chaotic. Once we move out the kids’ lives will improve hopefully.”

As for Reem, she just wants to help her mother, play with her sister, and dote on little Omar. 

“I wish for him to recover and stop being sick – I feel sad when I see him crying.”

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