A decade after being orphaned in the 2004 tsunami, British brothers Rob and Paul Forkan are successful entrepreneurs giving back to the people who helped them by building their first orphanage in Sri Lanka.
The brothers were just 17 and living in Sri Lanka with their parents and younger siblings when the Boxing Day tsunami crashed through their bungalow. The brothers and their younger brother and sister survived the giant wave, but their parents, Kevin and Sandra Forkan, were swept away and tragically lost their lives.
“Rob woke me up and he said ‘there’s some water in the room’ and I just carried on lying there and he said ‘no, no, there’s more you’ve got to get up.”
Rob and Paul managed to climb onto the roof of the bungalow and hold on as the tsunami wave rushed through. Talking to ITV News Correspondent Paul Davies, Paul Forkan said he had lost his grip on a pillar and would have been washed away if Rob had not grabbed hold of him.
“I was holding on and I slipped and Rob managed to grab my, I don’t know how he grabbed it.”
Once the tsunami had passed, Rob saw his young brother Mattie clinging to a tree, his face and body covered in blood. They then located their seriously wounded sister, Rosie. The little girl had been helped into a tree by their parents in a final act of sacrifice and love before losing their own lives.
In the aftermath of the tsunami, the brothers were helped to try and track down their parents by a young Sri Lankan who had also just lost his mother. Desperate, they stumbled in vain between hospitals, witnessing scenes of utter devastation that still haunt them today.
Ten years later, Rob, 27, and Paul, 25, recount the incredible story of how they survived the tsunami and went on to build an incredible business providing much needed philanthropic aid, supporting the local children who helped the newly orphaned siblings get home to the UK after the disaster.
The brothers are returning to Sri Lanka to supervise the construction of their first children’s center funded by money through their company, Gandys, which designs and sells flip flops. The center will help with accommodations, food and education for around 400 children. All of their products are stamped with their charity’s name, “Orphans for Orphans,” with the aim being to devote 10 percent of all profits to open orphanages “all over the world.”
“All the experiences we had through our parents and what they showed us has given us the values we have today. Our parents always told us to take the positive out of the negative so after the tsunami we were lucky that we had seen kids a lot worse off when we were younger.”
The brothers have exceeded all expectations with their company’s sales, and the flip flops have been seen on the feet of several celebrities, including Richard Branson and One Direction.
Ten years after the tsunami tore their family apart, the brothers are using their experiences to help other survivors of the tsunami, as well as children who have been orphaned, rebuild their lives.
“Now we just want to grow Gandys so we can open another centre after this one and then more.”