Down … but thanks to Kids Company, not out
Picture posed by model
JULY 18, 2007
WITH gang culture tightening its terrifying grip on Britain, one woman is leading the fight back.
Camila Batmanghelidjh founded Kids Company in 1996 and helps thousands of vulnerable youngsters overcome abuse, violence and the deadly drugs trade to become model citizens.
Here, two of her young charges tell their shocking stories as we profile the amazing work done by the charity.
HARDCORE hoodie Antoine is 19 and has spent most of his life on the streets. He has sold drugs and worked as a male prostitute to survive. When you read what the young Londoner – now studying to be a barrister – has endured, you may understand why:
When I was a baby, my mum had a mental breakdown and started drinking heavily.
Soon she was using crack.
During the night, people looking for my mum would often break into our house.
They would come into my bedroom and beat up family members.
I was sexually abused at the age of four because of this open house environment.
When I was eight my mum had started on heroin and I spent my time living with different family members.
Back home there would always be prostitutes and different men in the house and it wasn’t safe.
When mum had a binge period I wouldn’t have any clothes or food and there was a lot of shame.
A neighbour used to give me chips to eat — that was all I had.
Social services came to see us but did nothing.
I was roaming the streets by the age of 11 and by 14 I had turned my first trick, prostituting. Prostitution for drugs or food is rife among the kids I grew up with and their parents. I would perform oral sex for £20 and full sex for £40.
I got involved in drugs at 16. I knew I was gay by that time and a boyfriend introduced me to it.
Gang wars are all about white powder (cocaine), brown powder(heroin) and rock (crack).
It means money, survival, credibility and a stepping stone to a better life.
If I could make £300-a-day carrying drugs, I would do it.
Children as young as nine and ten are being given drugs to carry across boroughs in London.
And they are being told they will be shot if they don’t do it.
I started with pills, GHB, poppers, glue, weed and cocaine.
I never touched crack because of my mum’s experiences. When I was having sex with people for money, the drugs helped me to blank things out.
My life was filled with guilt, pain and fear — I was very aggressive.
Finally, I knew I had to find a way out. I began going to a day centre in Kings Cross, London, set up for young sex workers, and joined a drama group. I started acting with David Harewood, who starred in Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio.
I was playing myself in a production in June last year and Camila was in the audience.
She came up to me afterwards and said that even if it took all her life she would help me reach my full potential.
Camila and her team have turned my life around.
I began attending therapy sessions and I was introduced to a barrister, who became my mentor.
I’m currently studying law and I have offers to go to college.”
CHELSEA, 17, started selling crack when she was 11 but with the help of tuition from Kids Co is now due to take her GCSEs. She says:
I grew up in Brixton with my mum. My dad was in jail for robbery. When he came out he started smoking crack.
When I was 11 the problems got worse — it was more mental abuse than physical and I became mute for a whole year.
I started getting into what I call a “family” and others call a gang. I would stay with them and we’d go out and make money together.
I sold crack from the age of 11. The first person who gave me something to sell was my dad. He also gave me a gun and told me to hide it.
I know ten-year-olds who are standing on the block right now with a gun and a kilo of crack on their waist.
That’s what it’s coming to. Society is neglecting to see when parents are failing and no one is intervening.
Bad stuff is being written about shootings and hooded thugs but it’s been getting worse for years. It’s not petty crime, it’s serious business.
When I came to Kids Co I could get meals and change in my pocket to buy food — I didn’t have to sell drugs any more. I’m taking my GCSEs now. Kids Company has become my new family.