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
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
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
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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