Last year she was named “Young Star” at The Women of the Future Awards. Since then she has climbed Mount Snowdon, been listed as one of BBC’s 100 Women of 2014 and spent another year developing her widely renowned organisation, Lives Not Knives. At 21 years old, Eliza Rebeiro has much to be proud of.
But seven years ago life was different for Rebeiro. Kicked out of her Catholic all-girls’ school and transferred to a Pupil Referral Unit, she was exposed to scenes that altered her outlook on life. Finding herself in an environment rife with knife crime, Rebeiro felt the need to make a change.
“At the time there were about seven stabbings in Central Croydon within a week and a few of [the victims] I knew really well and were close friends,” she told Eastlondonlines. “A few of my friends are also in prison for it, so it’s both spectrums: perpetrators and victims. Most of it was when I was 13 or 14 and that’s why I started Lives Not Knives.”
Initially, Rebeiro wore a T-shirt embellished with the slogan Lives Not Knives throughout Croydon and quickly found that there was a demand for her product. With a little financial help from her mother, Monique, Rebeiro printed more T-shirts and sold them to raise funds and awareness for what was to become a vital community campaign.
She added: “We also did a party to prove that youths can have fun without violence, because a lot of the media headlines at the time were things like ‘ASBO generation’ or ‘Teen Kills Teen’. We wanted to prove that not all young people were like that. We got everyone to sign a petition saying ‘I’ve never carried a knife’ and gave it into the council.”
The organisation catapulted to success after this and has gone from strength to strength ever since.
“From that, [Lives Not Knives] grew and we wanted to run the campaign and do loads of public speaking and networking events, talking to people about knife crime and what’s actually going on. Soon, I was working with the Home Office and I was doing talks with them up in City Hall.”
However, Rebeiro realised that altering central government policy takes time and wanted to make immediate impact in the lives of people within her community.
“So that’s when I started doing work in schools. We created a team of young people to be mentors for Lives Not Knives and we got them to start working in the primary schools in Croydon. In the first year we did ten primary schools and currently we’re doing about 107 schools per year.”
Now, situated in a large office in Croydon’s Centrale Shopping Centre, Lives Not Knives has grown into an organisation which helps 10,000 young people a year. The charity shows youths who are at risk of becoming involved in knife crime that there are other options available to them.
She explained: “We’ve partnered with Job Centre Plus and we work with young people on a six week turnover. We also run pop-up Croydon from here which we launched a month ago. That helps start-up businesses by giving them somewhere to sell. Plus, my grandma is really into tech so she runs code clubs.”
On top of this, the Lives Not Knives team dedicates a large portion of time to fundraising. The team showed their dedication to the cause when they climbed 3,720ft Mount Snowdon last month, which, according to Rebeiro, “wasn’t fun at all”. However, the £2,500 they raised for LNK made it “worth it”.
She explained: “Right in the first year the council gave us pilot funding for the schools, but ever since then we’ve mostly self-funded LNK. We did a sky dive; we climbed Mount Snowdon. We do need more funding though. We would love to have more people on the road shows and we’d love to put more people on apprenticeships but we just haven’t got the funding to do that at the moment.”
But in a time of economic difficulty, Rebeiro still has big plans for the future.
She said: “We want to take [LNK] more into education and training now. We are working with a few organisations and businesses at the moment and really trying the build on apprenticeships and learning in a work environment.”
As if her pioneering work with LNK was not enough, being surrounded by inspirational women since The Women of the Future awards has inspired Rebeiro to take on a new challenge.
She said: “If we’re 50% of the population, why aren’t there more women in politics trying to change things or more women at the top of businesses? Because we’re not supporting each other to get to the top. And that’s something that I really want to work on in the future. I’ve had a few ideas but haven’t set anything in stone yet.”
“I think people look at women and they think about what they look like but not what actually comes out of their mouth and what they’ve achieved or what they can achieve. I think it’s really important that we try and change that.”