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Life is not something you can predict. Even the most well laid plans can be thrown off course by the inevitable twists and turns of life. But what you can control is how you choose to use those negative life experiences. Do you let them overwhelm you, or do you turn them into something positive?
When we started Gandys, we never actually shared our story with people. The reason for that was that we saw it as our problem, something personal which we didn’t feel we could share. But with people struggling to get their heads around why we wanted to start a social enterprise we realised we needed to open up. So, we introduced Orphans for Orphans and began to tell people our story as a way of explaining why we wanted to help those children most in need.
Words cannot describe the tragedy of losing our parents in the Boxing Day tsunami whilst travelling in Sri Lanka, nor do justice to our experience of hitch-hiking 200 miles to the airport with our younger brother and sister. But what we can say is that this traumatic experience has made us who we are today. Once you come close to losing your life you soon realise that you want to make your journey matter and that is exactly what we are doing. Our suffering has given us the passion and drive to open children's homes around the world, and in doing so we know that our parents didn’t pass in vain.
Personal tragedy is something which affects everyone, celebrities included. At first glance it’s easy to assume that celebrities have it all, that they live a life free from adversary. However, once you scratch the surface, you might be surprised to learn how many of those in the media spotlight have had to overcome personal challenges and tragedy. What is so inspiring is how they have chosen to turn these experiences into a positive and a success.
These brothers have both achieved incredible success in their respective tennis careers. However, as children attending Dunblane Primary School they were caught up in the school’s mass shooting which took the lives of 16 children and one teacher in March 1996. In a BBC documentary, Andy Murray: The Man Behind the Racquet, Andy spoke publicly for the first time about the attack: “At the time, you have no idea how tough something like that is, as you get older you start to realise.” The brothers’ triumph on the tennis court has helped to put Dunblane back on the map, but this time for a much more positive reason.
Malala Yousafzai has had to overcome more than most in her 21 years. As an 11-year-old, Malala wrote a blog for the BBC on the realities of living under Taliban control in the Swat district of Pakistan. Following the disruption of girls access to schooling under the Taliban she became an outspoken advocate for female education. Her vocal criticism resulted in the Taliban authorising her murder, and in October 2012 she was shot on her way home from school. However, she did not let the attack stop her activism. In 2013 she led the first youth takeover of the UN and in 2014 she was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, making her the youngest Nobel laureate. She is currently studying PPE at Oxford University.
The American singer and actress have turned her own experience of family tragedy into the focus of her humanitarian work. In 2009, Jennifer Hudson’s mother, brother and nephew were shot dead inside their Chicago home. In response to the tragedy her family founded The Hudson-King Foundation for Families of Slain Victims. The charity cares for the needs of families who have lost relatives to gun violence, providing food, clothing and shelter, as well as grief counselling. She also established the Julian D. King Gift Foundation alongside her sister in honour of her nephew, Julian King, which provides Christmas gifts and school supplies to families in the Chicago area who are in need.
Bethany started competing as a professional surfer when she was a little girl, but at the age of 13 she was attacked by a tiger-shark whilst out surfing with a friend which resulted in her losing her left arm. However, she didn’t let her disability stop her from pursuing her professional career. Within a month she was back on her surfboard and just two years later, in 2005, she won the Explorer Women’s Division of the NSSA National Championships. She has since established her own foundation, Friends of Bethan, which supports young amputees, and on her blog, she provides a platform from which to share the stories of other inspiring individuals who have overcome the difficulties and stigma associated with physical disability.
Two tennis players, a surfer, a singer/actress, and an activist make for a disparate group. But what unites these celebrities is their ability to overcome some of life’s most difficult challenges. Their attitude resonates with the message of Gandys, we Don’t Just Exist. Instead, we have used our negative experiences as tools to help the wider community. We never wished to be in the position we were put in, nor would we wish it upon anyone. However, it is because of our personal experience that we feel so passionately about our Kids Campuses and why we are determined to help those who can’t get the help they need. Thank you to everyone who has supported us on our journey and made this all possible.