Newsmaker: Children's crusader - Camila Batmanghelidjh Founder, Kids Company

Indira Das-Gupta

Helping some of the country's most deprived children to rebuild their lives.

When Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder of Kids Company, was approached by investments group Aviva to appear in an advertising campaign featuring "people with great vision", she was the only one who was surprised.

Anyone who knows about the work Kids Company does with some of the country's most deprived children could not fail to agree with the description. But Batmanghelidjh blushes and gives one of her highly infectious laughs when asked how she feels about such compliments.

"A lot of people yearn for emotional truth," she says. "I'm lucky enough to be able to stick to mine, and I think people tune into that. The fact that I don't care what people think of me has also freed me up."

It has been a good week for Batmanghelidjh. She has just been declared Ernst & Young's Social Entrepreneur of the Year, and Kids Company has been awarded £100,000 to fund a volunteering co-ordinator for the next three years.

But it has been a long, hard struggle. Just three years ago, Kids Company was evicted from its original site at the Arches in Camberwell and was found alternative premises only at the eleventh hour, with the help of actor Neil Morrissey and Granada TV chief Charles Allen. Iranian-born Batmanghelidjh, 40, has had to remortgage her house twice and admits that the charity lived "hand to mouth" until in April it was finally awarded government funding to roll out nationally the Kids Company model of working with disadvantaged young people. "Every day I wake up knowing that I am living my dream," she says.

If Batmanghelidjh's job is a dream come true, then the experiences of the 200 children who attend Kids Company centres each week are truly the stuff of nightmares. One Christmas, she gave a teddy bear donated by Harrods to an 11-year-old girl. By Boxing Day, the girl's mother had sold it to get drugs. Batmanghelidjh says: "Her parents were both heroin addicts and used to leave her at home with no food or electricity. Her mother forced her into prostitution and eventually she tried to kill herself.

Only then did social services intervene."

That same girl, now 19, has her own flat where she often cooks Sunday lunch for some of the younger children at Kids Company.

"We have some of the most extraordinary children here," says Batmanghelidjh.

"They are strong and resilient. That's why I get upset when they get trashed in the media. All we hear about is hoodies and yob culture, but nobody writes about children like that girl and congratulates them for turning their lives around. Not only do these kids climb mountains, but they also start from an abyss."

Not surprisingly, Batmanghelidjh is critical of the Government's approach to youth crime and its proposals to introduce so-called 'baby Asbos'.

"You can't force respect - it's a two-way thing," she says. "These Asbo kids have lost theirs because their childhoods are not being honoured.

They don't care what happens to them - in fact, the word on the street is that the best way to get access to services is to commit a crime."

At 9pm tonight, BBC2 will screen Tough Love, a a warts-and-all documentary about Kids Company. But Batmanghelidjh is philosophical about how it will portray them. "We have no merit if we do not represent these children - that means telling the truth," she says. "They are extremely vulnerable, and our work is hard."

Batmanghelidjh puts her ability to perform this demanding job down to the fact that she realised early in life that she's "not important at all". There must be thousands of children who would disagree.

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