I walked into a colourful, warm and welcoming environment; walls decorated by children’s artwork and the rooms filled with love and care. As I sat down in Camila’s office, which is more like a family tea room, she embraces me and I am able to feel her warmth. We sit down and as she sips her cup of tea she laughs. ‘I’m sure most people wonder what my problem is’, ‘what is the bee in my turban.' We chuckle before I ask her to tell me precisely what her problem is. She tells me of the brain research that has been conducted by Kids Company recently. Camila reels off figures, statistics and tells me of specific cases of children she has worked with over the years, detailing each one by name, her face full of emotion. The research has shown that prolonged abuse in childhood has a significant impact on genetic expression which is ultimately integrating violence into our DNA as we evolve.
This is an epidemic. I understand that I should perhaps feel inspired to make change but in honesty, I feel completely overwhelmed. ‘How on earth do you do it?’ I ask. Her face fills, more colourful than the walls that surround her, ‘the children’ she answers. She explains to me that she learns from them constantly and admires the courage and forgiveness they are able to show. It makes me wonder about her own childhood. Form previous research I know that she was born in Iran to a Muslim father who practised medicine and Roman Catholic mother. She gained a first in Theatre and Dramatic Arts from the University of Warwick despite being severely dyslexic and unable to use a computer. Still I wonder, what really makes this woman tick, what really is under her turban. I ask. She, quite frankly tells me that she would be nothing without the work she does for children. She says that she has always had a desire to live outside the boundaries of her personal life. She explains that serving other people is a treasure, and one that she has placed at the core of her being. She tells that her Grandfather has had a huge influence on her life. Of the two Grandparents she had, one was a self made multimillionaire, something Camila glosses over.
She then tells me that she believes that her perception is, and always has been different from others. She tells me of her birth – she was incredibly premature, weighing just 1 kilo and was not even put in an incubator as doctors were so certain that she was going to die. As she grew, it became apparent that some areas of her brain were incredibly underdeveloped whilst other areas had over developed in order to compensate for the areas of weakness. She believes that the biggest impact of this, is her understanding of death – something she says she has been aware of for as long as she can remember. She claims that this allowed her to understand her true zero this allowing her to live without fear or boundaries for the entirety of her life. Aside from this, it has had a whole host of more practical implications on her daily life. She is unable to drive, she cannot use a key board, is unable to write and was unable to tie her shoelaces until she was 12 years old. It has an impact upon her vision, her perception and her thyroid function, causing her to carry excess weight and often feel exhausted. ‘I’m sure people think, why does she eat so much if there are hungry children in her care’. We laugh.
It becomes more and more apparent that Camila is used to facing challenges and must have had a huge amount of determination to survive even the first few days of her life. ‘What is the hardest thing about all of this?’ I ask. ‘Well’, she replies, ‘My business is begging – and you give that a go honey’. In all seriousness, she explains that she too faces all of the usual challenges of a business only with no idea where her next bit of money is coming from and no product to sell in order to get it. She explains that Kids Company, along with most other charities, have to be sub servant in their approach. They will never be in an equal transaction with those who donate to them. I admire her for her sense of reality as she bluntly says, ‘the biggest problem is no one really gives a shit’. She explains that not even social services address the issues we’ve discussed, particularly in poorer areas, social workers will do almost anything to avoid taking on a case. Of the 1.5 million abused and neglected children in the UK, 604,000 will report their suffering to social services. However, only under 40,000 of these children will be helped by social services and only 2,300 of these children will get help for more than a year. The figures are astounding.
I wonder what it would be like working for Camila. The more we speak the more I suspect she wouldn’t be a great lady to get on the wrong side of. ‘I am in love with excellence’ she tells me.
She is nurturing, facilitating and lethally rigorous. Of being a woman in business she says that she finds that her skills as a business woman are underestimated whilst her love for the children is overemphasised. She has faced more stereotypes and has learnt not to fight them. She instead finds ways to compassionately work a way out of them – something she would advise others facing stereotypes to do.