The spirit of resilience

Learning to become more resilient is vital so that when setbacks occur, we can be ready to face them head on – and come back stronger.


Katie Piper

Right now, with the effects of the coronavirus still being felt across the globe, resilience has never been more important. After all, we have to be prepared to accept that fighting and beating COVID-19 is going to be a marathon rather than a quick sprint. Naturally, this is easier said than done, because in tough times it’s easy to give up hope. And this pandemic, which has ravaged lives while taking a grinding toll on jobs and the economy, is one of the toughest in recent memory.

Yet humans are good at rebounding – and rebuilding – after a crisis. If anyone embodied this spirit it was South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela, who could have been broken by his 27 years in prison but instead came back better and stronger. Despite the immense physical and psychological torment he suffered during his incarceration, he steadfastly refused to give up. “Do not judge me by my success,” he said later. “Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” After the coronavirus, we’ll get back up again, too.

But is there a secret to being resilient? Delivered. spoke to people who tapped into wells of fortitude they didn’t know they had in order to triumph in the face of incredible adversity.

What is resilience?

Katie’s foundation for hope

Keeping the faith in dark times

In 2008, Katie Piper was violently attacked in a London street by a man who threw sulphuric acid in her face. She suffered third-degree burns on her face, neck, chest and hands, and lost the sight in one eye. Her injuries were life-altering, but Katie has refused to let them either bring her low or define her. In fact, she has since become a best-selling author, speaker and TV presenter.

You have faced incredible challenges, but thrived. What helped you push on through?

Another individual can take your possessions, your career, your appearance, but they can never take your hope, your drive, your ambitions. You can’t survive without hope. And that’s what I held on to during the dark times. I also found religion during my recovery and found the church to be such a safe space and so welcoming – finding faith really helped me during that time. Also, where there is darkness, there is always light. I met many wonderful people who were trying to help me, including the incredible National Health Service (NHS) medical staff and my burns surgeon, Dr. Mohammad Jawad – he saved my life. I could start seeing progress slowly, and that’s what gave me hope.

What would your advice be to anyone feeling anxious and stressed during this particular time of crisis?

I think acceptance is the key word here. Accepting the “new normal” is hugely important, because that way you aren’t setting every day up for failure or disappointment. For me, having a routine every day helps reduce my anxiety, getting up, getting dressed, working out, school timetable for the children. Exercise is my biggest therapy – I love running, I love weight training. I also take time to meditate, listen to podcasts, write for my new book, research for my own podcast – for me those are my coping mechanisms, so it’s important to find your version of those to help overcome anxiety in an uncertain time.

What has been your proudest personal achievement?

Ah, that’s a hard one. I’d say my proudest personal achievement are my wonderful girls, Penelope and Belle. They are my pride and joy, and I love spending time with them. I was unsure I could have children after my medical history, so I feel so blessed to have them in my life. My proudest professional achievement has to be my charity, The Katie Piper Foundation – we recently celebrated our 10th anniversary. We have now helped thousands of burns survivors, and those with burns and scars. In 2019 we opened the U.K.’s first burns rehab center, which felt like such a proud moment for us. Our patron Simon Cowell came on the opening day to see the center and meet the staff, nurses and volunteers – it was a really great day.

Is there anyone who particularly inspires you with their resilience?

It has to be my mum, Diane. She is such a strong, inspirational woman. She, alongside my dad, brought me, my brother and sister up so well – we had a really happy childhood. When I was recovering from my attack, mum spent every single day at my bedside (for months) and was my rock throughout lots of operations and tough times over the years. I will never forget what she’s done for me – we actually wrote a book together a couple of years ago – “From Mother To Daughter – Things I’d Tell My Child” – which was brilliant, as I could read her view on our life for the first time. It was pretty emotional!

Learning the lessons of resilience

Finding “the good” in the middle of “the bad”

Randa Mando was a normal, carefree Syrian child with a happy family and social life, who loved going to school and playing with her friends.

Then the war began.

Randa’s house was located in the center of the city of Homs, where there was an immediate threat of violence and kidnapping, and the sound of explosions was unremitting. Soon she had to stop going to school because it was too dangerous to leave the house. So, in 2012, when Randa was nine, her parents took the decision to leave Syria and take her to Lebanon.

Starting a new life in a foreign country was hard, but Randa wanted to make the best of things. She enrolled in a school featuring teaching participants from the Teach for Lebanon program (part of the 53-nation Teach for All network), and applied herself to her studies. At first she found it hard to learn in English, but Randa refused to give up. As a result, she grew in confidence and her English improved. Now her school is closed due to COVID-19, so she is learning German online, and hopes to join the Beirut branch of the Goethe-Institut, an organization that promotes the study of the German language abroad and encourages international cultural exchange. Randa has had to be resilient for much of her young life, and is dealing with the coronavirus pandemic the same way she has dealt with other crises: by finding the good in a bad situation. “In my opinion, quarantine has impacted me positively and negatively,” she says. “The negative side is my separation from social life and not being able to leave the house as usual. However, the positive impact is increased awareness about health and the importance of work and daily routines in our lives. Plus, communicating with people is a vital part of our lives, which we didn’t appreciate before COVID-19.”

Making peace with reality

Acceptance of new situations

The Syrian War has been raging for nine years, but Khulud Halaby, Damascus-based Managing Director of DHL Express Syria, insists it won’t crush her spirit. “At the beginning of the war we didn’t go out,” she says. “Then we realized we had the choice between being unhappy and sad all the time, or enjoying ourselves as much as we can, because we can’t change the situation.” After work – and before social isolation was implemented because of COVID-19 – Khulud tried to make her life as normal as possible. She would regularly have dinner with friends; or on Thursdays, when the weekend begins in the Middle East, she could even go dancing till 2 a.m. if she wanted. Now, life has become restricted once again under lockdown.

Khulud believes that resilience is important in times such as these – and that it is the basis of courage. “We have to have courage in difficult times, such as the coronavirus pandemic,” she says. “We have to be flexible to make decisions day by day – depending on the general situation in the country and the situation in our personal and work lives – and ensure that we protect our people and our families as much as we can.”

Keeper keeps positive

Viewing challenges as opportunities

Keeper Bonase is an orphan who grew up in Cape Town in an SOS Children’s Village – a safe, caring, nurturing community for young people who have lost one or both parents.

But when he came of age, Keeper had to leave the Village behind and face a new reality. “That was a scary feeling,” he admits. “But I had to adjust.” He struggled at first, but learned to cope by thinking of new challenges “as a chance to seize an exciting new opportunity, even if the way ahead seems unclear.” Aged 16, he participated in the GoTeach Program, a successful youth partnership between SOS Children’s Villages and DHL that helps foster work opportunities for disadvantaged children and youth in over 40 countries. He’s now a regional ambassador for the program and works at DHL Global Forwarding as Administrator. Keeper has dedicated his life to youth empowerment and continues to offer his volunteer services to SOS Children’s Villages. “My favorite quote is: ‘Life is like a rollercoaster and a blessing. How you handle your ups and downs in life will depend on the choices you make.’ This is what life is all about – and overall, I am truly thankful for everything, each day.”

Published: June 2020

Images: DHL; private (2)