At 1am on Boxing Day 2004, me, my family, and much of the rest of the country were tucked up in bed, dreaming about the excitement and the food from the day before. On the opposite side of the world however, while the rest of us were sound asleep, many coastal regions surrounding the Indian Ocean were devastated by a tsunami, generated by the third largest earthquake in recorded history. While we watched helplessly from our living rooms the following morning, more than 230,000 people lost their lives in fourteen countries, over two separate continents.
Over the last ten years, the legacy of that day changed my life. I may not have known anyone that passed away, or anyone who was directly affected by the events that unfolded, but witnessing the devastation over the following weeks strengthened my passion for earth sciences, eventually leading me to undertake a degree with the hope that one day I’d be able to work on a project to develop natural disaster warning systems for the developing world. Earlier on this year, I had my first chance to visit Khao Lak, a relatively small town on the west coast of Thailand where 4000 people lost their lives. Here, I visited Police Boat 813, a vessel that was washed 2km inland by the wave, while guarding Khun Phum Jensen, the King of Thailand’s grandson, along with a nearby orphanage, which cares for those who lost their parents and families in the tsunami. Part of the events that unfolded in Khao Lak that day were portrayed in the movie ‘The Impossible’, which dramatised the story of the Álvarez-Belón family, who were staying only a short walk away from where our hotel was located when we visited 9 years later.
Here in the UK, one of the most well-known stories of the Boxing Day Earthquake is that of Rob and Paul Forkan. Ten years ago, the boys, aged 17 and 15 respectively, their parents Kevin and Sandra, and younger siblings Mattie, 12 and Rosie, 8, were living in Sri Lanka, having spent 3 years prior to the tsunami travelling, volunteering and learning on the road. The family has helped out local charities with voluntary work in India, taking part in everything from handing out food and medicine to organising sports days in orphanages. After spending Christmas day in a little fishing town called Weligama, they were awaken by the wave tearing through their hotel rooms. Tragically, their parents lost their lives, whilst struggling to help their two youngest children onto the roof of the building.
Rob had managed to grab hold of a metal bar in one hand, and Paul with his other, incredibly saving both of their lives. Despite losing their parents, passports and money, the boys and their siblings were eventually reunited, and hitchhiked their way to the national airport, 125 miles away. With the help of Sri Lankan nationals, embassy officials, friends and family back home, they eventually made it back to London.
Many years later, after the boys had grown up and hit the road again separately flip flops in tow, they travelling around India, Australia and much of Southeast Asia, in search of a positive ending to their tragedy. They decided to do something in remembrance of their parents, that would also help others in the places they’d visited, and one morning after a night on the tiles for Rob, the idea for Gandys was born.
With the original aim to use a percentage of the profits from their products to build orphanages in the developing world by selling 230,000 pairs of flip flops, they have since blown their original targets out of the water, and are well under way with the build their first children’s home. With their newly released book, ‘Tsunami Kids’ now in bookstores around the world, Rob and Paul kindly took the time to answer a few of my questions about the future of their brand and its legacy on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy.
Your story is known by many in the UK now following the launch of Gandys, what made you decide to release a book earlier this year?
Everyone was talking about our story so we thought it was time for both Paul and I to have to chance to tell our journey first hand and be able to share the success of Gandys. When we were children, travelling was just part of our daily routine rather than being stuck in a classroom. We were able to see life experiences first hand and our parents didn’t shy us away from both of the sides to living in India. We spent our childhood in flip flops, so it seemed to be the perfect idea for a start up company especially in memory of our parents.
One of your main aims for the company was to to be able to raise enough money to build Gandys first children’s home in time for the anniversary, how is the project going?
We are thrilled to say that we have secured the land in Sri Lanka and the building work is now in progress for Gandys first Kid’s Campus. This is so exciting, as it has always been our vision and aim from the start of our Gandys journey to be able to build a home to mark the 10th Anniversary. The Home is being built by locals in the surrounding area of Colombo and will be run by the local community. When completed it will be for orphans and children who are deprived of care offering them essential needs such as nutrition, medication, education and a safe place to be. The long term goal of the Gandys foundation is to continue to find and support projects that are helping children in trying situations. We will be visiting Sri Lanka to see the progress and meet the local community.
Now that your first home is well underway, do you have plans for your next? Will there a way for others to get involved in the future?
Eventually, we would like to have a children’s Home in every continent funded by Gandys Foundation. This is definitely the long-term goal of the company, and something we feel passionate about achieving. Our first opening is a massive deal, especially for the Gandys Foundation. When we expand and are hopefully able to one day open more, we would love like-minded travelers to get involved and help us out with the charity side of Gandys. We already have so many people who are supporting us and email in about helping which is incredibly overwhelming. At the moment, because this is the first home, we wanted to make sure it was a true community project, right from the builders, down to the people who will be running the home.
So, that’s their story. For me, I know that I want to return to university, to study a masters in Hazards & Disaster Management at Kingston. But, for now, that dream is on hold until I can save up enough money for the tuitions fees…here’s hoping it won’t take me too long.