Eliza Rebeiro

I am the CEO of Lives Not Knives a charity I founded with my mum when I was 14.

Growing up I was always very confident and always had a lot of friends around me, I wouldn’t say I enjoyed school but there were certain subjects and teachers that kept my attention, history and geography I loved and my primary teacher Miss Stanley. I would say I was very lucky, my mum and grandma took my brother backpacking each year and 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, current affairs and liked to know everything I could about a subject before discussing with my family over the dinner table. Unfortunately my secondary school journey wasn’t as positive and although I could blame my inquisitive mind I believe there were many things that my secondary school did wrong, for example, my head teacher telling me 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 wasn’t an angel, but I felt further let down by their broken promises, for example they failed to manage move me after promising for a year and the lack of paperwork and accounts given to me after more than 16 short term exclusions was appalling.

My confidence completely dropped, people assumed I was stupid because I wasn’t in school and suddenly friends weren’t allowed to talk to me because I was apparently 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 others from the other side of Croydon, and although I knew what they were doing was wrong, because I felt I was always looked after and felt safe with them, I didn’t, at the time do anything about it. I started smoking weed daily and it made me very paranoid, I got arrested for common assault and having weed on me, I hated seeing the way my mum looked at me after getting me from the station. We sat down and talked, we both cried and I promised I would try harder to be nicer and let go of the anger I had for the teachers and the school that let me down.

Within a week, My friend got stabbed and put on life support, in response, I had a t-shirt made that said Lives Not Knives 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, I’d say 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 plus, tried to touch me. My friend tried to stand up for me but ended up getting chased and beaten very badly, both of my cheek bones were cracked and although an investigation took place nothing came of this. After this incident it felt like although with LNK I was trying to do good, 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 communities hearts 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, and I think looking back.  I needed to be passionate about something to help make change and that for me was Lives Not Knives.

 Lives Not Knives has helped me grow so much in the years, I have attended many training days, been on many advisory boards.  Taken the journey from  a youth worker, mentor and delivered support programmes, created support and teaching programmes to both young people and responsible adults.  I then felt I had  accumulated enough experience to  take over the role as the CEO.  Dealing with strategy, finance, management, making sure all colleagues are happy and well equipped with all the mentoring techniques and strategies to support the young people we work with as best we can.