First published on 24 February 2013. Updated on 4 January 2024.
'I chose the vocation'
Camila Batmanghelidjh (کامیلا باتمانقلیچ) CBE, Founder, Kids Company,
born 1 January 1963, Tehran, Iran- died 1 January 2024, London.
RIP Camila and thank you for the generosity and kindness, help and support, you gave to so many kids. I am praying in my own way for you, may God grant you rest; you were, in the old idiom, a lovely lady, who, if required, may still be a peacemaker in heaven.
Camila Batmanghelidjh. Photo: Sam Frost/Via The Guardian
(Excerpts from an article first published on 22 February 2013)-- Camila Batmanghelidjh ("Batmanjelidge", born 1963, Tehran, Iran). She is founder of two charities - the place2b and Kids Company, where she and her team care for 17,000 vulnerable children and young people in London. The charity operates from three street-level centres in Southwark, Lambeth and Camden, as well as working in 41 inner-city schools. She lives in West Hampstead, London.
…“As a child, Batmanghelidjh would sneak food out of her home in Tehran and leave it on poor people's doorsteps; aged nine, she announced she was going to found an orphanage; by 14, she had written the business plan for Kids Company. She was influenced by her grandfathers – one a paediatrician dedicated to healing the poor children in his neighbourhood; the other an entrepreneur who was a multimillionaire at 21. She remembers her grandfather and uncles sitting around the table at lunchtime, "and they would say, 'let's build the biggest ski resort in the world,' and within a month they'd started. So I had this model of people who made decisions and started on them. There was no barrier."
Batmanghelidjh was 12 when she was sent to a boarding school, Sherborne, in England, barely speaking English, and 14 when the Iranian revolution began. Her father was arrested and imprisoned; every so often she would receive reports that he had been executed. A bank manager managed to get into her father's bank accounts so her school fees could continue to be paid, and the school helped her claim asylum. That year, her older sister, who was also in Britain, committed suicide after several attempts. "She just became so distressed about my father, she just couldn't take it. It was absolutely intolerable and we were powerless to stop her because she just found the whole thing too devastating. I think that happened to a lot of displaced people. It was very shocking. I had to tell my younger brother. There was the funeral. I had to tell my father when he got out of Iran years later." She trained as a psychotherapist before founding her first children's charity, The Place 2 Be, in her early 20s, and set up Kids Company in south London in 1996.
I ask if she feels she has made sacrifices because of her work. She smiles. "No emotional sacrifices, because I have absolutely lived my dream. I would like is a bit more time to myself and less of a burden in terms of the fundraising – it's humiliating to have to constantly beg for money. I've had partners, but I don't have a need to have a family. It would be a bad idea for someone like me. When I was 18, I remember deciding it was either going to be my own family, or the vocation. I chose the vocation, and I never regretted it."
As far as I can tell, the only time she takes for herself are the few hours she spends swimming. She eats all her meals at Kids Company, and rarely socialises beyond fundraising parties. "I took all the periphery stuff in my life out," she says. "If you come to my flat, there's nothing in there. When I went to my solicitor to do my will, he was laughing at me saying, 'You've got nothing, what are you writing a will for?' It's true."
How long will she stay with Kids Company? "I will do it up to a point where my physical existence can't sustain it, and then someone else will take it a bit further," she says. "It really is about bringing about a systemic transformation in how we care for young people. I want to see the political change, and I haven't finished the job. And maybe I won't. All I can tell you is that the day I'm on my deathbed, I will be genuinely happy with the way my life panned out."
Read the article:Camila Batmanghelidjh: 'I chose the vocation'
RIP Camila. You were truly special
Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian