Four and half years ago I was sitting in a Starbucks in Old Street, drinking a latte, and meeting with my mentor, Danny. We were chatting about life and the challenges that came with being a youth activist, at a time when I was trying to set up a global youth event, and desperately attempting to fundraise.
We used to sit there for hours racking our brains, searching for ideas as to how we were going to successfully pull off a huge global event. Then the subject soon changed, and we got talking about a community that Danny had just visited in Italy called San Patrignano. It is arguably the world's best drug rehabilitation centre for young people, with a huge success rate of 72%.
I was completely intrigued and amazed by what I heard, I remember going home, looking online, and reading more about the organisation. I knew I had to visit this wonderful place. Then, something amazing happened: through Danny I was invited to speak on a panel at an event organised by San Patrignano called WeFree Day.
I was incredibly excited by the opportunity, I thought long and hard about what I was going to say, especially as it was on a topic that I had no expertise or knowledge in. I wanted to ensure that what I said was meaningful and representative of young people, and in essence shone a spotlight on the great work of San Patrignano.
The panel came and went and after a while it became insignificant. I was introduced to two residents from Croatia called Harry and Ivica, they were given the responsibility to look after us and show us around their home. They took us all over the place; they took great pride in showing us their work in the carpentry sector. They shared their stories with us, and by the end of the weekend they became my brothers.
This was the start to a beautiful relationship with San Patrignano, which has since blossomed and strengthened over the last four years. I have been incredibly lucky to attend every WeFree event since 2009, and it has been a great honour to see this programme grow from strength to strength, involving more incredible youth organisations from across the world that are committed to living a life free from addiction.
As part of our commitment to San Patrignano and as a thank-you for hosting us for the last three years, we decided to fundraise and bring a group of young graduates from Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Apprentice Programme, as well as some wonderful people from various backgrounds, organisations and companies to participate in this years WeFree programme which was held over two days.
Together we had a fantastic week and we learnt a lot about one another, developed more relationships, shared stories and held workshops for school students from across Italy. It was yet another truly fantastic experience, put together by the talented team at San Patrignano.
Over the past four years I have developed some of the best relationships you can have in life with the people of the San Patrignano community. They to me are brothers and sisters and they provide me with the inspiration I need to go around and do the work that I do daily. Their stories and their commitment to change their lives is motivating and deeply empowering.
For me, San Patrignano isn't just a drug rehabilitation centre where young people are able to confront their issues and leave four years later with skills pertinent to the job market. It is a beautiful family that I'm immensely proud to be considered part of.
San Patrignano is a community that welcomes all young men and women who have serious drug abuse problems, regardless of ideology, social background, or religion, and is completely free of charge, accepting no payment or funding from their families or the government.
Since 1978, San Patrignano has taken in over 18,000 people, offering them a home, healthcare, legal assistance, and the opportunity to study, learn a job, change their lives, and regain their status as full members of society.