Paul and I really didn't expect such an overwhelming response for our first blog 'Filling your parents shoes.' It was viewed by almost 1 MILLION people - we are extremely humbled and touched by all of your support! For all of you who shared and liked the blog post, thank you. All of your kind words meant a lot to us and really helped us through the whole trip.
Paul and I were planning on writing a blog every day but unfortunately it was just too challenging to do. We know a lot of you have been waiting but here we are... I am writing this on the return of our trip. It has been an action packed trip and we have barely had a spare moment to stop but we want to share some of the highs and lows we had during this incredible yet emotional trip.
The start of our journey was really tough for both of us, and a bit of a shock. We’ve both been working really hard recently so neither of us had thought too much about returning to Sri Lanka, but as soon as we were there it suddenly hit us.
To start with, we were our usual chirpy selves! We both enjoyed racing around in a hectic city in rickshaws and visiting some of the projects our Accessorize partnership will go on to fund. Paul and I laughed about the difference in rickshaw prices - for a one mile journey one driver will charge 500 rupees, while another will charge 10,000! Some tourists might get angry about this but we realise that they're just trying to make a living.
At the first project, we met some incredible kids that were all filled with such energy and excitement! Paul tried his hand at teaching chemistry but before long the teacher recommended that she took over again if the kids wanted to pass their exams! The children's energy rubbed off on us and we played some football with the kids at the end of the day, but we had to retire when the heat got the better of us.
At the end of the day, we met a young boy who had also been caught in the Tsunami and lost both of his parents. When he was just 5 years old he was taken into care by relatives, but due to bad care he was now in a home. The locals explained our story to him and even though there was a bit of a language barrier, we saw his face drop once he heard our experience, and saw tears well up in his eyes. We only knew his pain too well.
Then, we found out that after the tragedy of the tsunami he had gone on to be abused too. Hearing that after an horrific tragedy things didn't really get much better was incredibly upsetting for us. This really highlighted for us why Gandys exists - so that any child will be cared for properly after experiencing such an event. This young boy particularly liked cricket so we are buying him some new cricket gear as well as paying for his cricket coaching to give him an outlet. Having something to focus your energy on is something Paul and I have done over the years via sport and now Gandys.
Our rollercoaster trip then reached another high the following day, when we had the chance to meet David Cameron at Colombo Cricket Club, where we also met the worlds best test bowler of all time, Muralitharan. The inspiring player has a great charitable project in the South near to where we were affected by the tsunami, so they have a lot of young victims in their care.
We met another young man who had lost both parents in the tsunami, and then had gone on to be captain of the Under 19 national team at the latest World cup! This young man deserves huge credit for turning his life around. This was all possible because he was given an opportunity and because he worked very hard to take this chance. We had a great day at the cricket club and it was brilliant to gain recognition and support from our Prime Minister for all our hard work and effort.
As I said, we had some great moments but we were very aware of being back in the country that took everything from us. The moment that it really hit us though was meeting a young boy who would have been close to Paul's age upon our last experience. It's hard to explain but looking at this young boy and seeing his distraught look and the fear in his eyes was something we were only too familiar with.
That day had been really long, we had been travelling for most of the day and we couldn’t sleep on our first night. We were up all night watching out the window to make sure if something was going to happen we were ready. As children we learnt upon our travels that mother nature is the most powerful thing out there and we certainly experienced that firsthand.
Watching the disaster in the Philippines unfold has been horrendous for us - we really feel their pain. Seeing this just before going on our trip dismissed all our thoughts that it would be a safe trip, as we started to get paranoid that something could happen again. This might have been a selfish thought perhaps, but it was almost impossible to not think about it all. On the middle of the second night our anxiety actually led to us both waking up and we were considering just calling it a day to come home.
At that moment, we thought back to all the messages of support we had received on Facebook and those words gave us the strength to keep calm and carry on!
We continued our trip though and kept looking at other projects with Peter Simon of Monsoon and Accessorize. Peter was a complete pleasure the whole trip and we learnt an awful lot by listening to his years of experience in retail, fashion, and ethical trading, which has enabled him to do so many charitable projects over the years. Something that made Paul and I really smile - as well as a lot of children too - was seeing the founder of this global retailer start singing a rendition of the Beatles "Yellow Submarine" after the children asked him to. It was great to see so many smiles as the day went on as there weren't that many upon arrival as within this house these young girls had been exposed to situations no one should have to deal with and some of the case studies were truly horrific!
Upon this particular visit we learnt so much and could draw so many comparisons, what was quite interesting was that these young girls now make beautiful jewelry. When they start designing they are very dark pieces of jewelry, but as time passes they turn into stunning bright pieces - which shows that they are recovering and in a better place. The girls also use a lotus as their logo because it resembles how some things may start in muddy waters but eventually they can emerge to become something of beauty and hope. For us such strong meanings behind their designs and the significance of their logo really captured us as it is something we have applied ourselves to everything we have done with Gandys. We put a footprint in our logo to represent ‘Footprints in the Sand,’ our mum’s favorite poem, and to taking a step in the right direction. We also put a Kingfisher in the logo as it was our Dad's favourite beer whilst in India, and we felt that lots of bright colours showed our vibrant upbringing!
Whilst we were there we were asked to explain to many of these young girls how we had managed to take a negative situation and work towards something positive. After we had shared with them, we were told that they were completely moved to hear about our experiences - it shows that it doesn't matter where you are in the world anyone can be exposed to a tragedy, but there can also be light at the end of the tunnel. One of the young girls cleverly asked how we have achieved what he have and how she herself could do the same - Again, a touching question that we answered with "Belief and perseverance will take anyone to their dreams!"
We also had one beautiful young girl innocently ask "Please can I have an education?" which instantly melted and broke everyone's heart in the room! This is why my brother and I set ourselves such a tall order! We have had to learn an awful lot of recent in order to do what we now do, and we have pushed ourselves by working around the clock. We constantly challenge ourselves to do things we have never done before, and to know that our hard work will now see us distributed around 17 new countries that will help others, like those we have we met on this incredible trip, makes it all worthwhile.
We also learnt something great from Peter of Monsoon and Accessorize, that every month he challenges himself to have at least one experience he has never had in his life. On this occasion this may have been singing 'Yellow Submarine' to a lot of children! What a great way to live, to try something new every month that may inspire, and bring a smile to someone else. This is now something we will be sharing with our team in hope that they apply this rule to their own lives.
It has been a trip of a lifetime and something that started so raw, actually left us wanting to stay longer - we even walked down the beach on the last day! This has been due to everyone that has got behind our brand and our vision from day one, as well as the welcoming hospitality and beautiful smiles of the Sri Lankan people that we have met.
We thought this trip may help us to forget. It didn't. We know that the scars will always be a part of us and represent the life that we have lived….therefore we show ours in the hope that you can see healing is possible.
Rob & Paul