Sometimes when you hear a song, you’ll be pulled in by the beat, its catchy lyrics, or best of all – the emotion in the singer’s voice. You feel it. You hear it. You’re immediately connected. One singer’s audition on The X Factor Australia moved the judges and audience to tears in such a way. Emmanuel Kelly’s rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine struck a chord with the crowd, but so did his backstory.
Emmanuel and his older brother Ahmed had been living in an orphanage in Iraq run by nuns who were part of Mother Theresa’s charity. In the 1990s, the baby boys were found abandoned together in a shoebox. Both had severe limb deformities that were the result of chemical warfare in the war-torn region. It was there at the orphanage where humanitarian worker Moira Kelly took an interest in their care. She was there as head of the Children First Foundation in Australia, which works to provide life changing surgeries for children who do not have access to them in their home countries. She set out to bring the brothers home with her to Australia for surgeries. During the process, she became so charmed with the little ones that she ended up adopting them.
Emmanuel’s dream of being a professional singer was motivated by his mom, who is also his personal hero. It’s evident that his self-assurance and maturity are remarkable for someone so young. One of the striking things about his story is that because he and his brother were found without any documents, no one knew their exact birthdays or ages. Though both young men have had their share of challenges, it is clear they haven’t stopped their determination. Emmanuel has not let his disability stop him from pursuing his goals, nor does he want anyone to treat him with sympathy. Instead, he hopes to inspire others through his passion. It appears inspiration runs in the family. Emmanuel’s older brother Ahmed also found success as a record-holding Paralympian, representing Australia in swimming in the 2012 London Paralympics and the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Mom Moira is still doing great work for children around the world, and recently started her own foundation.