I have just finished reading Ban Ki-moon's address to the residents of San Patrignano. On Wednesday the Secretary - General of the United Nations visited the drug rehabilitation community in Italy and in his address he mentions two residents that I am proud to call my friends - Mike and Damir. Mike is from Las Vegas and Damir is from Montenegro. Both of them were addicted to drugs before entering San Patrignano and both of them will soon leave the community to start a new life free of drugs. Mike and Damir hosted Ban Ki-moon when he visited with the community.
Addiction has no boarders or boundaries and San Patrignano has helped young people from 28 different countries to kick their habits. The residents are diverse but they all have the absolute conviction when they arrive at the gate of the community and that is to rid themselves of drugs forever. San Patrignano's reputation is growing here in the UK and we are now hearing from more young people who are addicted to drugs and are interested in entering the community. As part of my role running the UK San Patrignano Association I work with anyone who has reached that point in their life where they want to make long lasting change and stay away from taking drugs.
Anyone who leaves the community in Italy "staying well" is to be admired and respected - they have conquered their demons and whist living in the community they have started to rebuild their lives. One of the many success stories of San Patrignano is the award-winning restaurant that is housed at San Patrignano called Vite. The residents can choose to learn a trade as a Chef at the restaurant and many of them leave fully qualified to enter the workforce. One young man who did this is my friend Lorenzo Milanesi. Lorenzo has worked in Michelin starred restaurants both here and in Italy and he is now a chef at Fifteen - the restaurant that is a charity founded by Jamie Oliver. Lorenzo has become a close friend and in his spare time he helps me cook at our fundraising lunches that we run to raise money for the UK San Patrignano Association. Like the 33 other San Patrignano Associations that are run by ex residents and parents of the young people who have finished the programme, our London Association is home to residents from San Patrignano who we have helped to move here and find work.
Lorenzo also now works with me to help addicts in this country to enter the community in Italy. His story is like so many others in Italy as he started taking drugs as a young teenager as a way to fit it and also to boast his confidence. He was always passionate about food and whilst he was at San Patrignano he was given the chance to prove what a talented chef he is. Cooking his family's recipes that have been passed down by generations, the food that he lovingly prepares is outstanding.
San Patrignano's international reputation is also reaching other shores as well for next week Lorenzo and I are being flown to Western Australia to participate in a conference on food that is being run by a fantastic organisation called FACET (Forum Advocating Culrural & Eco-Tourism). The primary objective of the conference is bring to the attention of the world the incredibly diverse and rich food that is grown in the Manjimup region of Western Australia. We will be touring around the region sampling some of the best truffles, chocolate and wine that the State has to offer. We have both also been given a rare and extraordinary opportunity and that is to go foraging for food and "bush tucker" in the outback with an indigenous Australian by the name of Josh Whiteland. We will gather an array of native Australian vegetables and edible plants, foraging with Josh and a group of young Chefs from the region. After foraging we will all cook on an open fire pit. This is a wonderful opportunity for Lorenzo to learn about Australian "bush tucker" and importantly to share his rich knowledge of food amongst the diverse team. Manjimup is a long way from Lorenzo's hometown of Revena in Italy but I can picture the distance being bridged by the very fact that all of the young people will be coming together to cook on the open fire pit in Australia. We are also being taken on a "food safari" of Western Australia courtesy of Tourism Australia and the #BestJobs campaign.
I am thrilled to be taking Lorenzo on this journey, he is everything that is right and good about San Patrignano and he deserves to be there with me as we tell the story about this very special community. In his speech on Wednesday Ban Ki-moon said:
"In our lifetime, nobody is perfect. Nobody is perfect. One day, one time, for certain reasons one may make some misjudgments. One may make mistakes. But I think by having you here (you are) trying to cultivate your potential. Everybody has good potential".
Lorenzo learnt a very valuable lesson when he was at San Patrignano and that was that he had the potential to overcome his addiction to drugs and in a safe and loving environment he regained purpose in his life. Through food Lorenzo teaches others and at Fifteen London he is often found helping the apprentices who are facing many challenges in their lives and at work. Ban Ki-moon went on to say to the residents:
"When you go back to your own country, to your home you will be very honourable fathers, mothers, sons and daughters and honourable members of your community, where you can contribute your skills and potential for better social and economic development of our world".
Having successfully finished the programme at San Patrignano Lorenzo has already been contributing his skills to the young people at Fifteen London and in the next few weeks he will also be making a difference to the lives of some of the young chefs in Western Australia.
Read Ban Ki-moon's address to the residents of San Patrignano
For more information on the FACET conference
For more information on the #BestJobs campaign in Western Australia