UK tsunami brothers combine charity, fashion and travel to fund children's homes

Orphaned by the 2004 tsunami, British brothers help fund projects in overseas children's homes to give back.

Nearly 12 years after British brothers Rob and Paul Forkan survived the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed their parents, they have combined charity work with travel and fashion to open a store in London to help fund two overseas children’s homes.

The brothers were in Sri Lanka with their family for Christmas when the tsunami struck in December 2004, ripping through coastal communities in 14 countries, killing 230,000 people and sweeping away their parents.

When a wall of water crashed onto the shore, Rob and Paul stayed together, clinging to trees. They eventually found younger siblings Matt and Rosie and managed to get back to Britain where they were cared for by one of their elder sisters.

Realising how lucky they were to survive and to have family to help them, the brothers’ desire to give back inspired them to set up Gandys, an ethical footwear company making colourful flip flops from natural materials, in 2011.

Mum and Dad would be happy to see the store and all that we’ve done and how far we’ve brought it with the children’s homes because that’s what they were passionate about.

Rob Forkan, co-founder, Gandys

The company opened its first store in London’s Spitalfields Market on Wednesday, expanding its range from flip flops to clothing and travel accessories.

The profits from Gandys have helped fund projects including a centre for orphans near the Sri Lankan capital Colombo that the Gandy Foundation opened in 2014 and the brothers now aim to open a children’s home in Malawi.

“Mum and Dad would be happy to see the store and all that we’ve done and how far we’ve brought it with the children’s homes because that’s what they were passionate about,” Rob told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“They were also into fashion, so all we’re doing are things that they would have been proud of.”

With globes and maps displayed on shelves and walls, the store reflects the extensive travelling the brothers have done since teenagers.

“Our brand is built on a lifestyle of travelling. That’s what people appreciate about our story and our brand,” Rob said, adding that Britain’s notorious weather spurred them to expand their range.

“You cannot just have a flip flop store in London because you can’t just be open for four weeks in a year as it rains too much.”

Rob said he hoped donations from corporations would help fund training and apprenticeships for the children in the home in Sri Lanka and the planned project in Malawi.

In the past, the brothers have won praise and support from British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, former prime minister David Cameron and celebrities such as singer Jessie J.

London’s mayor Sadiq Khan paid tribute this week to the brothers’ work.

“Their enterprise was born out of grief and it has yielded a legacy that will likely outlast them,” he said in a recorded message.

This story was  published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.

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