In the last decade I had the opportunity to witness some successful average scale implementations of social improvement projects.
There is a great amount of material available online: development models, guidelines, case studies. If I had to make a parallel of projects I have knowledge of it would be the following:
- A person sees an issue.
- He/she decides to get involved in.
- Sooner or later he faces an increasing and often overwhelming demand.
- The initiator uses his own assets – knowledge, relations … or finds someone with appropriate means to address the mater in hand in a larger scale.
- If the understanding of the problem in hand is genuine, and the initiator(s) sincerely involved, their knowledge and relations make it possible to raise enough funds to create a sustainable structure.
Although almost all the issues are related to poverty, the difficulties of implementing a project are much less about finances, and much more about written or unwritten social prejudices, and above all the project leaders’ understanding of the issue.
If I have to choose tree words in the above chapter, they will be: seeing, deciding and understanding.
… there are “no bad children“, just children whose bitter lack of a caring adult in their lives has led to a volcanic rage which finds release in aggression. “… victims of abuse become its perpetrators, violence being the only route to empowerment that they know.”
[Camilla] … is well aware that … those three words, “no bad children”, make her a target for derision. But it is 10 years since she founded Kids Company … has defied the sceptics by providing a positive alternative … as specialists increasingly report that criminalising youngsters only pushes them further into lawlessness, Batmanghelidjh’s approach becomes more pertinent than ever…
“Some people now talk about feral’ children when referring to kids who seem wildly out of control, but I don’t like that expression because it suggests the blame lies simply within the child. The reason I speak up for these youngsters is not because I agree with what they are doing, but because I feel their story is being told only one way.”
… the missing chapter is society’s disregard for what makes a good childhood. “… Politicians talk about the importance of education and skills, but no-one mentions the priority of building a society which understands the benefits of loving care.”
Batmanghelidjh dates our present fractured society from the Thatcher era, when the potency of the individual was elevated at the expense of community. “Those left in poor circumstances on the periphery felt humiliated, and that hasn’t changed. As a result, what we’ve got … subversive economies which can’t be policed legitimately, so violence becomes the weapon of control.”
Children with no emotional anchor never learn a self-calming repertoire … they become … “thermostatically impaired,” their unmanaged energies building towards ferocious anger which explodes to cause malicious injury to others.
“With their own lives devastated by neglect or abuse, they behave like suicide bombers: they don’t care if they survive or not, for, in being uncherished, they themselves cherish nothing… they have no experience of participating or being wanted by society.” Punishment or banishment only confirms their status as the unwanted, for they have already lost the most important life source: their sense of belonging…”
“… every single child we’ve had is, or has been, so severely disturbed that other agencies and schools won’t take them. Many have been bullies and some, yes, are capable of murder. And because 95% of them are self-referrals, the agreement between us is truth. Our approach is holistic, multi-disciplinary and never judgmental, so, often for the first time in their lives, the children find adults who will listen to them and earn their trust.”
SHE makes it sound effortless, yet that is to deny the immense dedication and unstinting energy of her staff and volunteers. Through major fund-raising events – which are undoubtedly helped by her only family legacy, entrepreneurial flair – Kids Company pulls in around £4m a year …
“Our staff understand that they’re accountable only to the children. … In this kind of profession the turnover is 18 months, but 90% of our people started with us 10 years ago and they’ve stayed, giving the children 100%.”
” … Sometimes kids will say: I’ve stabbed someone’, and although I don’t want to know where, when or who, I tell them that harming another person means they’re not managing to control their emotions, so we need to get help. And by then, because of the trust between us, they come with me to see a psychiatrist … ” Of all the young people who have encountered Kids Company, fewer than half a dozen continue in criminal activity. “The rest want to be legit.”
There are legions of children … who are overlooked by the authorities and those who value bureaucracy more than the individual. “These children are as traumatised as war veterans …
“… some parents and dealers want to shoot me because I’ve pulled kids out of the drug trade. But it’s interesting that they have never done it. It would take just one bullet, and they have never done it. Why? I believe the reason is that they recognise in me the person they wish they’d known when they themselves were kids being corrupted and run by dealers.” … Excerpts from This woman dedicates her life to ASBO kids, The Herald.
Previous post: Camila
See also Three cups of Tea
Far from being neglected herself, Camila grew up in an “unbelievably sheltered environment“. Born in 1963 in Tehran to an Iranian entrepreneur and his Belgian wife, “I had one of the most privileged childhoods…I was born into a very well known and wealthy family …”
After two years in a school in Dorset, her own childhood suddenly turned as turbulent. With Iran in the grip of the revolution, her father was arrested and all his assets seized. Camila’s older sister killed herself. All her childhood possessions were burned. Her “entire personal history was wiped out. It was terrifying. My life changed dramatically.” Camila’s teachers helped her to apply for political asylum.
Severely dyslexic, Camila completed her studies using a tape recorder. She went on to study theatre and dramatic arts and later studied for a masters’ degree in the philosophy and psychology of psychotherapy and counseling in London. She did a total of 17 years’ training. “I was intuitively able to work, the training gave me the intellectual ability to name things – it didn’t teach me how to do the work.”
When she started to work as a therapyst she soon became frustrated by the number of her clients who failed to attend more than a few therapy sessions. “I realised the system was flawed because it assumed there was always a responsible adult to take the children to sessions, I wanted to set up a structure where the children could ask for help directly… to develop something that would meet these children’s needs where they were.”
Camila, at the age of 25, stopped her mortgage repayments to finance the foundation of her own charity, The Place2Be, which today provides therapy for 20,000 children every year in schools throughout the country.
Taken to court by her building society, she was only saved from having her flat repossessed by a sympathetic judge. The same two-bedroom £70,000 north London flat has since been re-mortgaged twice to help finance Camila’s second charity, Kids Company.
Camilla set up Kids Company under a railway arch in Peckham in 1996 which has developed into a six-day-a-week service, free for anyone who cares to use it.
Kids Company is a school, canteen and youth club visited by over 500 children a week. Far from a conventional youth club, it was set up specifically as a place for the most vulnerable children who commonly suffer significant mental health and emotional difficulties due to experiences of neglect, abuse and exposure to violence and drugs. Many have dropped out of school; often they’re homeless.
The young people usually self-refer themselves after hearing about the organisation through word-of-mouth. Kids Company provides them with emotional and practical support to bring about positive changes to their lives. It helps them regain access to care and education. It also provides support to teachers and parents who work with disadvantaged children.
Kids Company currently supports some 5,000 vulnerable children and young people.
The unique thing about Kids Company is the attitude of its founder, whose refusal to be intimidated by the harsh circumstances of these kids’ situations, has allowed her to communicate with them where others have failed.
Gaining the respect of the children was a long process. “They admit now they came to destroy it… we were going to be their entertainment... but were taken aback by the fact that I didn’t fight. In the early days they used to say: ‘I’ll shoot you’ or ‘I’ll kill you’, and I’d reply, ‘Only by appointment!’
That’s how the relationship between us got established. They’re little boys. They don’t frighten me at all. I joke with the 17-year-old who’s presenting himself as the biggest thug in Peckham, carrying his knife in his shoe, and I tell him I’m going to pinch his cheeks!”
Something all the children share is a lack of parental care. “… they’re badly traumatised by social circumstances: the exposure to violence … is very high … Many children tell me it’s amazing they have survived 17 years in this neighbourhood. They cannot imagine themselves in the future.”
“… I used Persian hospitality – everyone is welcome no matter how they behave… they can drop in, have a meal, play pool or see our psychologists… They don’t have to talk to us…Just having somewhere safe to go to can be healing in itself … Over time, mutual trust builds up and they share their life experiences with you … There are times when the kids hate you and times when they love you, but they are always honest … I think with a bit of love, a bit of humour and a bit of parenting we got through.”
Kids Company endeavours to attract the children everybody else seeks to avoid, kids who don’t even merit a figure on the audits of many institutions because they are neither in school nor in care. They don’t belong anywhere.
In the daytime, children who are not in school come for counselling and education. When the schools close, the centre becomes a youth club, providing art classes, sport, music, books, hot food and, most importantly, an alternative to the streets. On Christmas Day over 150 children with no better offers filled the centre’s gym for dinner, and Camila ensured there were presents for everyone.
A testimony: She was invisible to the system
Camila runs the charity through her belief in the “healing powers of robust compassion and gentleness“. Kids Company boasts students among its former regulars, as well as responsible parents and professionals. Camila insists, her success rate is determined only by helping a child develop the ability to have a respectful relationship with somebody else.
Her work is influenced by the Attachment theory (based on the results of experiments which showed, approximately, that infant rhesus monkeys preferred emotional attachment over food). This essentially holds that children develop as the direct result of how their first carers engage with them.
To help troubled children learn to develop compassion and care for others, they first need to hear someone apologise for everything they have been through. Kids Company staff do that, then help children to empathise by forming intensive attachment relationships with them. A wide range of techniques is used to assist the staff deal with physically challenging children.
Camila exposes the plight of children who are overlooked by the authorities and denounces those who value bureaucracy over the welfare of the individual child.
She insists on the importance of “loving care”: The healing process for these young people is only possible in the context of sustained relationships, where practical and emotional needs are addressed. Through this healing process, young people are encouraged to take responsibility for their emotions and their behaviours.
Camila responds to them with respect and understanding and has broken through where so many others have failed.
Camila seems a talented fundraiser too, she was named Ernst & Young’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005 and the Woman of the year for 2006.
Other relevent links:
Camila talks about working with profoundly vulnerable youth, Sept 2005, Mp3
My week, Guardian
An insult to the young and unfair to the rest of us, a critical article about Camila in Timesonline
Only Connect, Guardian. “None of us can afford to insulate ourselves from the damage done by deprivation at society’s margins …”
This woman dedicates her life to ASBO kids, The Herald, January, 30, 07
… result of our failure, Guardian, February, 08,07
Violence as the currency of survival, Telegraph, February 16,07
PPGG has posted the complete information about the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Here is a short version. If there is one story worthy of recitation, it seems to be the following. Thank you PPGG.
Gandhi once observed that “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” Peace and justice are inextricably linked. 2006 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, the Bangladeshi economist and originator of the microcredit idea Muhammad Yunus, has given his Nobel Peace Prize lecture very much in this spirit.
“Poverty is the absence of all human rights. The frustrations, hostility and anger generated by abject poverty cannot sustain peace in any society… I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor people is a better strategy than spending it on guns.”
The difference between his successful ground-up strategies and the failed developmentalist models of the past is that it empowers and places responsibility with the lender, mostly small groups of female borrowers who apply for small amounts of credit to invest in small business projects such as making soap.
His strategy and that of the Grameen Bank is the innovative and cooperative microfinance model…the Bank’s continued wonderful success on the ground in alleviating poverty and improving lives is thoroughly deserving of its plaudits. See also the Grameen Foundation.
Excerpts from the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture :
… By giving us this prize, the Nobel Committee has given important support to the proposition that peace is inextricably linked to poverty. Poverty is a threat to peace.
World’s income distribution gives a very telling story. 94% of the world income goes to 40% of the population while 60% of people live on only 6% of world income. Half of the world population lives on $2 a day. Over one billion people live on less than a dollar a day. This is no formula for peace. See Miniature Earth
The new millennium began with a great global dream. World leaders gathered at the United Nations in 2000 and adopted, among others, a historic goal to reduce poverty by half by 2015. Never in human history had such a bold goal been adopted by the entire world in one voice, one that specified time and size. But then came September 11 and the Iraq war … I believe terrorism cannot be won over by military action. … We must address the root causes of terrorism to end it for all time to come. I believe that putting resources into improving the lives of the poor people is a better strategy than spending it on guns.
… Poverty is the absence of all human rights. The frustrations, hostility and anger generated by abject poverty cannot sustain peace in any society.
I became involved because poverty was all around me. In 1974, I found it difficult to teach elegant theories of economics in the university classroom … I wanted to do something immediate to help people around me … That brought me face to face with poor people’s struggle … I was shocked to discover a woman in the village, borrowing less than a dollar from the money-lender, on the condition that he would have the exclusive right to buy all she produces at the price he decides. This, to me, was a way of recruiting slave labor … 42 victims (had) borrowed a total amount of US $27. I offered US $27 from my own pocket …
The excitement that was created among the people by this small action got me further involved in it. If I could make so many people so happy with such a tiny amount of money, why not do more of it?
That is what I have been trying to do ever since.
The first thing I did was to try to persuade the bank … to lend money to the poor… The bank said that the poor were not creditworthy… I offered to become a guarantor for the loans to the poor. I was stunned by the result. The poor paid back their loans, on time, every time! … I decided to create a separate bank … in 1983, I finally succeeded in doing that. I named it Grameen Bank or Village bank.
Today, Grameen Bank gives loans to nearly 7.0 million poor people, 97% of whom are women, in 73,000 villages in Bangladesh…housing loans have been used to construct 640,000 houses… We focused on women because we found giving loans to women always brought more benefits to the family.
… the bank has given out loans totaling about US $6.0 billion. The repayment rate is 99%. Grameen Bank routinely makes profit… 58% of our borrowers have crossed the poverty line.
It is 30 years now since we began. We keep looking at the children of our borrowers … Grameen Bank now gives 30,000 scholarships every year…There are 13,000 students on student loans. Over 7,000 students are now added to this number annually.
We are creating a completely new generation that will be well equipped to take their families way out of the reach of poverty. We want to make a break in the historical continuation of poverty…
We shall not live in dilapidate houses. We shall repair our houses and work toward constructing new houses at the earliest.
… Young people all around the world, particularly in rich countries, will find the concept of social business very appealing since it will give them a challenge to make a difference by using their creative talent. Many young people today feel frustrated because they cannot see any worthy challenge… Almost all social and economic problems of the world will be addressed … Healthcare, financial services, information technology, education and training and marketing for the poor, renewable energy − these are all exciting areas for social businesses …it addresses very vital concerns of mankind. It can change the lives of the bottom 60% of world population and help them to get out of poverty…
… Globalization … can bring more benefits to the poor than its alternative. But it must be the right kind …Globalization must not become financial imperialism.
We Create What We Want: …If we firmly believe that poverty is unacceptable to us, and that it should not belong to a civilized society, we would have built appropriate institutions and policies to create a poverty-free world … we can create a poverty-free world because poverty is not created by poor people. It has been created and sustained by the economic and social system that we have designed for ourselves…we built our theoretical framework on assumptions which under-estimates human capacity…
In a poverty-free world, the only place you would be able to see poverty is in the poverty museums. When school children take a tour of the poverty museums, they would be horrified to see the misery and indignity that some human beings had to go through…
Grameen has given me an unshakeable faith in the creativity of human beings. This has led me to believe that human beings are not born to suffer the misery of hunger and poverty.
Let us join hands to give every human being a fair chance to unleash their energy and creativity.