Glorious past, present tense, uncertain future 
Goan Association has battled crisis before, and should overcome current one
by Eugene Correia

Last year, the Goan Overseas Association (UK) passed its half-century mark in 
its journey which has seen many ups and downs. Inaugurated in 1966, the 
memories of the past years are well captured in the souvenir released to mark 
the momentous occasion.

In 1977, a new name, Goan Association (UK) was adopted, though retaining the 
acronym, GOA, as its trading name. Many other Goan bodies have mushroomed, as 
the diaspora community has grown with the influx of the Portuguese-passport 
holders. Shockingly, it hasn’t translated into increase the GA member. In fact, 
the GA membership has decreased and, therefore, it’s no surprise that the GOA 
is embarrassed to release the figure. 

The GA has been in crisis before as it’s facing one now over the resignation of 
some of its directors and general secretary. No official explanation is 
forthcoming. Even those who resigned have remained silent. A conspiracy of 
silence prevails in the management of the association. The GA has been to court 
to sort out legal issues and confrontations at least six times in its history, 
according to someone in the know.

Some Goan and Manglorean Catholics, who made a trip to neighbouring countries 
under the auspices of the Overseas Student Catholic Organisation, felt the need 
for a Goan association. The souvenir describes the failed attempt as, “That 
freshly-sprung idea of a Goan association wilted no sooner it had come about.”  
This failure in 1962 made a handful of Goans to take up the challenge again two 
years later, and the East African Catholic Society (EACS) was born. A seed was 
sown.

The pair of Camillo de Souza and Amorito Nazareth played leadership roles in 
setting up EACS. The far-sightedness and vision of these two, who were well 
versed in the club life of Goans in East Africa, resulted in formalizing the 
idea that shaped the arrival of GOA. 

As one of its objectives, the GA stated that it would like to see its “elders 
as members of parliament” and “our part fully in the life of the country.” They 
may not be “elders” or members of GA, but there are three Goans MPs, namely the 
long-serving brother-and-sister team of Keith and Valerie Vaz, and newcomer 
Suella Fernandes. Keith and Valerie’s mother, Merlyn Vaz, was a councillor, and 
today Rabi Martins sits as a councillor in Watford. 

Playing a vital role in the formative years of GA, Martins showed his penchant 
for politics when, writing in the association newsletter in 1975, he forcefully 
stated, “What then is the future of the association? Not much, unless the 
members awaken immediately to the need to reorganise our body into a radical 
political body capable of representing the Goan community in the country.” 
Martins headed a Standing Committee on Race Relations and Immigration (SCORR). 
As a representative bod, its impact on issues such as immigration, welfare, and 
housing is said to have been “minimal.” The GA hasn’t transformed itself into 
Martins’ dream and, perhaps, the view of being a “radical political body” is no 
longer valid. 

No doubt that Goans who came in large numbers from the liberating East African 
nations as well as those forced to leave their lands because of political 
upheaval, particularly Uganda in 1972,  boosted the numbers of Goans in UK. 
Goans in the new land wanted to replicate the social life enjoyed by them in 
the East African nations that they left behind. The urge to socialize, have 
dances and entertainment fuelled the desire to have an association and, 
gradually, for a clubhouse of its own.

The reality of owning a piece of land came in September, 1983, when the Goan 
Association Sports and Social Club was declared open at Beckenham, Kent. The 
playing fields were acquired, making the premises the jewel of the association. 
The grounds helped in providing youngsters with facilities to horn their 
sporting skills, as well as provide keen matches, particularly in cricket and 
field hockey. Few dedicated members worked hard to make the dream come true. A 
decade and half later, the dream went up in flames. The clubhouse was burned 
down by an arson attack, and, later, the insurance claim was settled, providing 
 the GOA money to invest in flats. 

The will to keep the cultural spirit going was strong. In 1984 came SCOGO 
(Standing Committee of Goan Organizations), the brainchild of Marcus D’Souza, a 
founding member of the GOA. The new organisation was the coming together of 
village associations. One year later, it held its first Goan Exhibition & 
Festival. With rising number of Goans, the festival too grew in scope. To 
accommodate the crowds, the festival was moved to a bigger arena in 2011, and 
today it has become a massive celebration, drawing nearly 20,000 people, of 
Goenkarpon, the much-used word in Goa today, in all its forms. But surprising, 
profits were low. In 2011, the GA hosted the four-day Global Goan Convention, 
promoted by the NRI department of Goa government. It also secured a grant of 
38,300 pounds by the British Heritage Lottery Fund for compiling the oral 
histories of British Goans.
The GA isn’t without its critics. One of them is a former director and editor 
of its newsletter, Melwyn Fernandes, who let his membership languish after 
three decades. In some of his letters that has been circulated on Goa forums, 
he has questioned some of the practices of the current management, including 
auditing procedures. He opines that the GA is “run down due to collective 
dereliction of duty by the Directors…” He has also raised concerns on 
office-bearers getting “paid for unaudited expenses” and functioning of the 
Goan Welfare Society (GWS).

Melwyn is joined by Joseph Rebello in questioning the state of affairs in the 
GA and have called for a “shake-up” or “overall clean-up” to make members renew 
their faith and confidence in the GA. He says that the GA is in “disarray”. A 
source informs that director Paul de Mendonca, who was president for two years, 
withdrew when he came to know that he would lose to the ultimate winner, Sandra 
Fernandes, at the last AGM. Later on, Paul’s, Chloe and Neil, resigned from 
their directorships. Then came the sudden resignation of former president 
(1988-89, 1998-2012) Flavio Gracias, who was general secretary and welfare 
director.

Flavio has been quoted in the souvenir as saying, “… the Goan Association (UK) 
has reached a stalemate and is unable to attract new members despite the 
increase in the number of Goans living in Britain.” However, president Ravi 
Vaz, who took over from Flavio in 2012, assures that “through far-sighted 
financial planning, we have ensured that the association is financially sound, 
and is able to sustain itself and serve the community for a long time to come.”

In an email, the president elaborated, “We are an outward looking 
organization…. We have adapted ourselves well with the changing times…. With 
the influx of Goans on Portuguese passports into the UK, the Association has 
lived up to the roles and changes and achieved new heights.”

There’s no doubt that the GA will survive in one form or the other. Giving its 
current status, the GA, must show better transparency and accountability if it 
needs to win the new Goan arrivals. The GA can win confidence of its members if 
It let go of itself from the alleged control of few families. Goan associations 
worldwide look at the GA not only as pathbreaker but also as a model.


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