Connecting with Christmas Carols

Iris C F Gomes

The Bethesda Life Centre has produced, in years past, an annual Christmas choir, to add a hint of innocence to the increasingly commercialised festive season of Christmas. This year the choir will comprise of the melodious tones of the girls from Rebekah’s Enclave and will begin their musical presentations on the 6th and continue up to the 23rd of December. Terence D’Silva, who has been with the Bethesda Life Centre for the last six and a half years, tells us of the naissance of the choir in 2011.

Every year the Bethesda Christmas Choir has been trained by different people. One year it was a volunteer called Timothy from the UK, last year Terence roped in his wife, who plays the guitar, and this year Casilda Lobo of Porvorim has taken on the task of shaping up the choir and fine tuning the young voices. She says, ‘I just thought of helping the street children. They have worked very hard and learning something, which has brought them on par with other children, has increased their self-esteem.’

Their initial activity was confined to a solitary performance at the St Inez Church in Panaji and had boys as well as girls involved in the choir. A performance at the St Inez Church has since become a tradition and has been consistently supported by Fr Cotta, a connoisseur and composer of fine music. The annual rendition of Christmas carols after the six o’clock Mass, brings in a collection of Rs 25,000 and more, underscoring the generosity of the parishioners.

Recounting the metamorphosis of the choir as the organisers became braver and gained confidence, Terrence says, ‘The first two years we had boys and girls in the choir. In the third year, we had only boys but this year we have decided to have an all-girls choir.’ Apart from these changes, last year there was some spontaneous activity with shows at the Church Square and the Miramar Circle.

The youngsters have performed before the Governor of Goa at Raj Bhavan. Governor Bharat Vir Wanchoo was most gracious and mingled with the members of the choir with great enthusiasm. The children were treated to a tea party and Governor Wanchoo displayed interest in what the children were up to, academically and otherwise. The present Governor of Goa, Mridula Sinha, has already interacted with the children through a programme held earlier in the month of November. She purportedly asks to be presented with baskets of fruit instead of bouquets of flowers as felicitation and then sends the fruit basket over to the homes for children.

The donations that come in have their advantage but the main motivation behind the formation of the choir is to connect with people, as occurred with a man they met at the Church Square in 2013. This gentleman managed to supply individual gifts such as a watch or small cars to the children through the generosity of his friends in Bangalore. Apart from this, the endeavour is a confidence building one and opens doors to wholehearted acceptance of the children, ridding them of any stigma of belonging to a home for orphans. The effect of this has been evident in the children as some of them have begun performing at an above average level at school. Tariq Mohammed, a student of Popular School, will be representing the State in athletics and stands as a good example of how encouragement and impartial treatment can stimulate a drastic change in behaviour. There was a time Tariq was a difficult student with behavioural problems, but now the transformation he has undergone is nothing short of amazing.

The Christmas Choir has been performing at Caculo Mall for over three years now and has been invited to sing at hotels such as Radisson Blu Resort and Sandalwood Hotel and Retreat, having the latter provide them with a buffet. They have already been asked to come back to Sandalwood Hotel and Retreat for this year’s Christmas celebrations.

The collections from last year’s shows brought in a substantial amount of money, which was utilised to buy a new fridge and paint the girls’ home among other things. Nevertheless, the Christmas Choir is to act more as an ambassador for the Bethesda Life Centre, to make up for the paucity of publicity it suffers from. Other homes and charities have a far wider recognition and are inundated with donations of clothes, funds, food, etc. There seems to be a false perception that the home is well off where finance is concerned owing to the presence of foreign volunteers and the occasional donation of money from a ‘white’ person. People might be well advised to set aside religious prejudices they might hold and give generously towards the upkeep of the home that houses children irrespective of their caste or creed.

Joshua’s Enclave (for older boys), Daniel’s Enclave (for young boys) and Rebekah’s Enclave (for girls) are the various homes where the choir members, past and present, are housed. Daniel’s Enclave is in the process of being converted into a model home under the Juvenile Justice System. Archangel Pinheiro, who is responsible for the home, says, ‘The Directorate of Women and Child Development may give grants if it becomes a model home. We would be the first to achieve this status because no other home in Goa is a model home. We want to ensure quality care for the children with a medical check-up every six months and regular visits from the doctor and dentist. We have also had academic progress with the introduction of a remedial teacher.’

The choir may make people aware of the home for children but we must not forget other projects such as Sunflower and Rising Star, undertaken by directors Martin and Beena Philip, to empower families afflicted by the HIV virus and to provide a firm base for children, who cannot be introduced directly into mainstream education. Nevertheless, the Christmas Choir has much to convey by its presence. And while the burden of creating awareness lies steadily on young shoulders and voices, there are plans to perform this year at INOX, outside Don Bosco High School and various factories, such as the Putzmeister factory, besides the regular venues.