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Camila Batmanghelidjh obituary
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Camila Batmanghelidjh obituary

For 20 years, Camila Batmanghelidjh was a prominent and easily recognizable figure on the UK charity scene. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 61 after battling a long illness.

The charity, Kids Company, was established in 1996 by the founder to assist children and teenagers who were struggling, mistreated, or abandoned in south London. With the help of Batmanghelidjh and her team, the organization provided various forms of aid such as love, meals, support, guidance, therapy, and even clothing and spending money to thousands of youth. As a result of its success, Kids Company expanded to other locations in Bristol and Liverpool.

Using her own charisma, Batmanghelidjh was able to persuade both Labour and Conservative prime ministers to provide funding for her charity. David Cameron was especially impressed with her concept of personal engagement, which was mocked by Labour as “hug a hoodie.” She also won over numerous public figures such as the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and prominent figures like Boris Johnson, JK Rowling, Damien Hirst, and the band Coldplay. Through donations from City firms and prominent business leaders, she was able to raise over £164m in a span of 20 years, with more than a quarter of that coming from government funding.

In 2009, Deborah Orr wrote for the Independent that 96% of children who had dropped out of school were able to re-enroll after receiving assistance from Kids Company. The article also stated that 82% of these children struggled with substance abuse, homelessness, criminal involvement, or emotional issues.

Batmanghelidjh was portrayed by the media as either the Angel of Camberwell or the Pied Piper of Peckham, depending on personal preference, and was honored with multiple awards and praises. These included being named woman of the year, social entrepreneur of the year, and one of the 100 most powerful women in the country according to a BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour poll. In 2013, she was also appointed CBE.

However, in 2015, Kids Company faced a dramatic failure due to numerous accusations of mistreatment, which were later proven to be false. The organization also received backlash for poor financial management, which greatly damaged the founder’s reputation. Despite being mostly cleared of personal responsibility, her reputation was still tarnished.

Habitually dressed in voluminous, colourful costumes, with distinctive turbans wrapped around her head, Batmanghelidjh was unmistakable as she swept through her Kids Company headquarters in Southwark or into Downing Street. She claimed that the covering allowed her to keep some privacy and furthermore that the children who came to her for help loved the flamboyance. It also made a virtue of her size, the result of an endocrine imbalance stemming from her premature birth.

She expressed to the Sunday Times in 2006 that the children’s stories evoke strong emotions and move her to tears. She believes it is important to convey their emotions in order to bring their experiences to light. She has stopped trying to shield herself from their pain and instead allows it to flow through her like a stream. She firmly believes that these children have the potential to heal and improve.

It appeared to be effective: children who were traumatized and occasionally displayed aggression were not punished, but instead, were encouraged and provided with care and empathy. According to her, the child’s inability to receive love and nurturing on a consistent basis deprives them of developing their own self-comforting skills.

Camila, the third child out of four, was born into a family of entrepreneurs in the city of Tehran, Iran. Her grandfather was responsible for building hospitals and hotels, while her great-uncle held a high rank in the country’s military. Camila’s father, Fereydoon, was a doctor who had studied in London and met his wife, Lucile, who was Belgian. However, their privileged lifestyle was abruptly interrupted in 1979 during the Iranian revolution. Camila’s father was imprisoned and unable to communicate for four years, and there were rumors of his execution. Tragically, Camila’s sister Lila also took her own life during this tumultuous time.

Batmanghelidjh was relocated to a school in Switzerland and later attended Sherborne school for girls in Dorset. Despite facing challenges with her health and dyslexia, she was able to continue her education at the school even after her family’s assets were seized by the Iranian government. She was eventually granted political asylum in the UK and pursued a degree in theatre and dramatic arts at Warwick University. She then studied psychology and child development at the Tavistock Clinic in London and began working as a child therapist in Camberwell, south London.

She was deeply affected by the severe poverty and neglect faced by children in that area. One incident in particular, where a seven-year-old girl attempted to end her own life, inspired her to start a project called Place to Be (now known as Place2Be) in 1994. This initiative involved placing counselors in primary schools. In 1996, she even took out a mortgage on her flat to establish Kids Company, initially located under a railway arch in Southwark. Due to complaints from neighbors, the organization relocated to Blackfriars in 2004.

The charity welcomes all children, regardless of their behavior, and ensures that each child has a mobile phone to communicate with trained helpers or Batmanghelidjh personally.

In 2012, the group served sit-down lunches to 3,500 kids during Christmas. Along with the hot meals, they also offered therapy, counseling, and guidance on housing and employment. They provided support for homework and arranged trips to doctors and dentists. Additionally, the children received pocket money every Friday, as the organizer believed that both middle-class and underprivileged children should have access to it. The organization also bought clothing, including high-end sneakers.

Some journalists alleged that certain individuals used the funds to purchase drugs, while others only attended to receive their payments. The media later publicized a story about a teenage drug addict who was supposedly sent to a Champneys spa retreat for £55,000 in order to improve their self-confidence.

Although Batmanghelidjh was successful in raising funds and promoting herself, the charity’s financial management was lacking. Kids Company ultimately failed in August 2015, shortly after Cameron disregarded civil service recommendations and approved a grant of £3m. This came after the announcement of a Metropolitan police investigation into alleged abuse at two of the charity’s locations, as reported by BBC Newsnight. However, the Met later concluded that there was no evidence to support the allegations and the investigation was terminated.

However, later investigations into the management of the charity were unfavorable. The National Audit Office stated that government officials did not place enough emphasis on the actual accomplishments of the charity. In 2016, the Commons public administration and constitutional committee accused Batmanghelidjh and the trustees of relying on unrealistic hopes and unfounded positivity. In 2022, the Charity Commission found evidence of mismanagement in Kids Company’s operations and noted that its business model was high-risk. The commission also warned against charities relying solely on the passion and abilities of one charismatic person.

Last year, there was a legal challenge to the findings, but it was not pursued due to Batmanghelidjh’s poor health. In the past, an attempt was made by the official receiver to prevent her and others from being directors of the company. However, Mrs Justice Falk of the high court dismissed these claims, stating that Batmanghelidjh and former trustees were not responsible for the charity’s mismanagement. She also noted that the charity may have survived if it had not been for baseless allegations of abuse. Mrs Justice Falk commended Batmanghelidjh for her dedication to helping vulnerable young people for many years.

Batmanghelidjh resided in a humble apartment in West Hampstead and remained under the radar while offering guidance to other charitable organizations. According to Libby Brooks’ account in the Guardian, “Just a week before her passing, she arranged for 150 meticulously wrapped Christmas presents to be delivered to the Brixton Soup Kitchen, with the request: ‘Please do not mention my name as the sender.'”

Her brothers, Bobby and Ardi, are still living.

Source: theguardian.com