Eliza Rebeiro

I am the CEO of Lives Not Knives, a charity which I founded with my mum when I was 14. Growing up I was very confident and always had a lot of friends around me. I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed school, but there were certain subjects and teachers that kept my attention - for example I loved history and geography and my primary school teacher Miss Stanley. I would say I was very lucky growing up. My mum and grandma took my brother and I backpacking each year so I had already seen China, India, Australia and other countries by the time I was 11. This opened my eyes to the beauties of the world, as well as real poverty and a different world to what I had ever seen on TV or in the UK.

After primary I really wanted to be a War Correspondent. I was intrigued by the news and current affairs, and liked to know everything I could about a subject before discussing it with my family over the dinner table. Unfortunately my secondary school journey wasn’t as positive and although I could blame this on my inquisitive mind, I believe there were many things that my secondary school did wrong. One situation that sticks in my mind is my head teacher telling me that I didn't belong at a Catholic school because my parents were divorced, and then not understanding why I didn’t  want to be there.  I definitely was not an angel, but I felt let down by their broken promises, for example  after they failed to 'manage move' me after promising to do so for a year. The lack of paperwork and accounts given to me after more than 16 short term exclusions was also appalling.

My confidence completely dropped, people assumed I was stupid because I wasn’t in school and suddenly some of my friends weren’t allowed to talk to me because I was deemed to be a bad influence. I found myself meeting new people and wanting to be as far from home as possible because I felt I had let those that loved me down. It was during this period that I managed to get caught up in a lifestyle that really wasn’t me.

At that time the people I was surrounding myself with were using and selling drugs, carrying knives and starting issues in the community with people from the other side of Croydon. Although I knew what they were doing was wrong, at the time I felt that I was being looked after and was safe with them, so I didn’t do anything about it. I started smoking weed daily and it made me very paranoid, and I later got arrested for common assault and for having weed on me. I hated seeing the way my mum looked at me after getting me from the station. We sat down, talked and cried, and I promised I would try harder to be nicer and to let go of the anger I had for the teachers and the school that let me down.

Within a week of this conversation my friend got stabbed and was put on life support. In response, I had a t-shirt made that said 'Lives Not Knives' on the front, and that’s really what started this journey. Luckily he survived. We ended up finishing at a Pupil Referral Centre together and I managed to get pretty good GCSE results.

At 16, around October 2009, I stopped going out in Croydon and made new friends. One day I was at a bus stop in Tooting with a male friend when a group of 16 males, who must have been aged 21 and over, tried to touch me. My friend tried to stand up for me but ended up getting chased and beaten very badly, and both of my cheek bones were also cracked. Although an investigation later took place, nothing came of it. After this incident it felt like although I was trying to do good through my work with LNK, something kept pulling me back into negative thoughts and situations.

Tragically my friend died in April 2010. He was stabbed in the chest by a 27 year old man and this broke our whole community's heart, including mine.  Although I had seen people being stabbed and knew people who carried knives, it was only now that I felt pain and realised how much losing someone to murder can change your whole perspective on life.

I was broken and wouldn’t leave my room, I didn’t think LNK mattered anymore and found it hard to communicate with people. I started looking at friends as enemies and believing that nobody understood my life or what I was going through.

It took me a while to sort out my own mind. I learnt to spend a lot of time on my own, and my mum helped me to realise that people now needed LNK more than ever. I think, looking back, I needed to be passionate about something to help make change and, for me, that was Lives Not Knives.

Lives Not Knives has helped me grow so much over the years. I have attended many training days, and been on many advisory boards. I have taken the journey from starting as a youth worker, to then creating and delivering support and teaching programmes to both young people and responsible adults.  After time, I then felt I had accumulated enough experience to  take over the role as the CEO.  I now currently deal with the charity's general strategy, finance and management, and ensure that all of my colleagues are both happy and well equipped so they can support the young people we work with as best we can.