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Cross Culture Kindness

A Lance Corporal has told how he joined the British Army to "repay his debt" to the English family who saved him from a life of poverty selling peanuts for £1 a day.

Gopal Vaakode was 12 when he met the Hanson family who were holidaying in Goa, where he was walking 10 miles a day selling peanuts to tourists, whilst his mother would collect plastic bags and bottles from the street for money.

Sometimes he'd sleep on the beach, and other nights in a tent on the side of the road, providing for his three younger siblings and his mum.

Whilst selling his peanuts, he serendipitously approached some tourists - Carol Thomas, 55, and Colin Hanson, 64, a couple, and his sister in law Linda Hanson, 70 - and asked if they'd like to buy some peanuts. Instead they took him shopping for clothes and food for his family. They promised Gopal they'd see him when they returned next year and by pure chance, in yet another moment of good fortune, bumped into him again on the beach.

It ignited a lifelong bond, and within days the family persuaded Gopal and his mother Peckrrva, to let them help. They sent money from the UK for food and supplies and paid for the family to live in a rented home in Goa every monsoon season, coming to visit them whenever they returned. This generosity allowed the kids to go back to school.

Aged 19, he started to visit his 'foster family' in the UK for months at a time, and on one trip joined the local cricket team on an away match at an army barracks. A brigadier asked him if he'd consider joining the British Army - and Gopal leaped at the chance, to repay the people and country who had saved him.

Ten years on, now 35, he lives in Mansfield with his wife Jasmine, 26, daughter Daisy, seven, and still feels like "luckiest kid in the world", reports the Nottingham Post.

He said: "The main reason I wanted to join was to make my family proud and say thanks to Linda, Colin and Carol for everything they did for me. I will forever be in debt to them, but joining the army was my way of repaying them by doing something important in this world.

There was a day when I had no food, nowhere to sleep and nothing to look forward to in life.

Now I have a loving family with an incredible wife and an amazing daughter. I really could not ask for more."

Businessman Colin added: "He has made us all extremely proud with what he is achieving in the army, and now he has a wonderful family, too. It was an amazing journey, and we're overjoyed to have met him."


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