AN INSPIRATIONAL campaigner who has spent her teenage years trying to protect the youth of Croydon has been honoured at a national award ceremony.
Young volunteer Eliza Rebeiro has won the prize for Bringing Communities Together at the largest youth volunteering awards in the country.
Eliza, 19, who set up the anti-knife crime project Lives Not Knives, has been named as the national winner in her category for the vInspired National Awards.
The annual ceremony celebrates the achievements and dedication of young volunteers and youth workers.
They aim to challenge negative attitudes towards young people by highlighting the creativity, motivation and generosity of some of the most inspiring young volunteers in the country.
Eliza has been selected from hundreds of nominations to be named as the winner in her category, after setting up Lives Not Knives at the age of 14.
Lives Not Knives aims to reduce gang-related violence in Croydon and neighbouring boroughs. After seeing two friends stabbed - one to death - Eliza decided she wanted to give young people in the area an alternative to knife crime.
She created T-shirts printed with the slogan Lives Not Knives and sold them to pay for an underage disco, where young people could go without fear of violence.
Since then the project has developed to outreach sessions in schools. She and a team of 20 volunteers now run roadshows, visiting over 30 local schools.
Eliza has recently expanded the project into Bromley and has also started working with the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (RASASC) in Croydon to educate young people about violence in relationships.
She said: "It's such an honour to be named a national winner. I don't volunteer for recognition, but it's great to know that people appreciate what I do. I hope that I can inspire other young people to volunteer.
"I am very proud of what I have achieved. My aim is to get the kids' priorities set before they go to secondary school. I want Croydon to be a community again.
"The riots were the only time I've seen people working together to achieve an ultimate goal and that was for something bad.
"Lives Not Knives has been my life for the past three years. It's the most I've ever achieved and has taught me more about myself than anything else I've done."
MP Gavin Barwell paid tribute to Eliza's work.
He said: "Whenever I meet Eliza I can't help but come away inspired. Here is a young woman who has made the conscious decision to dedicate her life to supporting other young people and encouraging them to make a difference in their communities.
"Lives Not Knives has gone from strength to strength under her leadership, so I'm delighted that vInspired have recognised her by making her a national winner. Her example is one that I know inspires many.
"Eliza has done a phenomenal amount of good in Croydon. Long may she continue to work her magic and make our town all the stronger for it."
The overall winners were chosen by a panel, including Paralympian Dame Tanni Grey Thompson, at a star-studded ceremony in central London on Tuesday.