San Patrignano, Italy, 12 October 2016. The Ugandan break-dancer and social visionary, Tekya Abraham (known as Abramz) was given the 2016 San Patrignano’s WeFree Award by the Director of UNICRI, Cindy J. Smith on 12 October. The WeFree Award recognizes people who have distinguished themselves with personal and professional commitment to the protection of youth’s rights.
The WeFree Days are organized every year by the rehabilitation community of San Patrignano that over the last 35 years has welcomed young men and women with problems linked to drug addiction. The WeFree event reflects the everyday experience of the community with young people and aims at raising awareness on the risks associated with drug use and engaging youth and all the people concerned in addressing drug addiction.
“WeFree means making a choice, the right choice for you. It means thinking for yourself, even when it means going against the grain.” All activities of the WeFree project are related to the central theme: "It depends on us: this is to say that we have to understand the full consequences of our actions and we have to take responsibility because change is possible starting with our everyday behaviors."
The event was opened by the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi. “The issue of drug use among young people is a real one, and the way San Patrignano is tackling it shows that when young people are given an opportunity, they can empower themselves and contribute to their communities,” Alhendawi said.
More than 2500 high school students from all over Italy met with institutions, personalities from sports and entertainment to discuss and search for innovative solutions concerning drugs. In her welcoming remarks, Cindy J. Smith addressed the topic of drugs and violence, and the question of how drugs substances can fuel criminality. For more than 50 years, UNICRI has been doing research on drug addiction, treatment and rehabilitation. Currently, the Institute builds the capacity of policy makers and professionals to include a gender responsive approach in the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of substance use and related vulnerabilities. The programme is based on the assessment of the level of awareness and the capabilities of professionals, in order to identify structural and knowledge gaps, to be addressed through ad hoc training.
Abraham Tekya, the winner of the WeFree Award, was 7 years old when both his parents died of AIDS. Often missing school and living on the street he finally found a way to express himself with hip-hop and break-dance. By the time Abraham turned 17, he and his brother Sylvester had become well known artists in Uganda. Convinced by the idea that break-dance, beat-boxing and rap could be used as a tool to promote positive social change and empower disadvantaged youth in Kampala and other areas of Uganda. In 2006 Abraham founded the break-dance Project Uganda (BPU). The Initiative is based on the belief that everyone can learn and play a positive role model to others. The BPU project started in Kampala but has now spread to other areas. Abramz's dream continues: "This is a place where people can regain their pride and where what is learned nobody could ever take. The BPU isn't just dance: here they teach a vast array of professional activities that could one day become a means of liberating themselves from poverty. So we've created courses of art, design and music, subjects that become very important for the kids, because often they become the first avenues in which they able to express themselves, kids from all over Uganda participate, completely free of charge, sometimes traveling tens of miles to take part.”