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In a Goa beyond visitors’ eyes

Bernie and Greg of Jan Ugahi are addressing problems that prosperity brings

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Goa enjoys a prosperity greater than the rest of India. Its standard of living would rival that of Asian tigers. On human development criteria too, it would score well. Goans are a spirited, hospitable, fair minded, God-fearing people. While 26% of all Indians are in poverty, the figure for Goa is less than 10%. Its roads, beaches, resorts and open-ness would make you believe you were in the south of Europe.

But beneath the cheer, problems gather and lie like the garbage that affluence generates -- for someone else to clear. The most affected are the children. Several thousands are growing up without knowing childhood. Even while battling on their behalf using familiar means, Bernadette D'Souza and Gregory D'Costa are working on a deeper plane. Beyond laws, they believe is a God-given right of all humans to realise their full potential. Their organisation Jan Ugahi, means 'Self realisation for all'.

The story of how they came to this mission is fascinating; one that is so very Indian. Greg used to be a priest and Bernie, a telephone operator.

Mines and beaches:

Under Portuguese rule for over 400 years, Goa had developed a unique culture all its own, with a very Latin flavour. In 1962, Goa hit world headlines as a 'sovereign state' 'annexed' by 'imperialist India'. When West's moral outrage subsided, its people began to come over -- in curiosity first, and for the infectious friendliness thereafter. The Goan had charmed them.

The Portuguese had also incubated many native entrepreneurs who went by names like Chowgule, Dempo, Salgaokar and so on. Many of these were known worldwide as mine and ship owners. The Persian Gulf job-boom that began in the mid seventies made even the middle and lower layers of Goan society cash rich. There was much spare money looking for investment opportunities.

Goa decided to invent itself as a tourism destination. The construction boom of the 1980s, --combined with labour shortages, due to many Goans away in the Gulf-- drew poor migrants from drought hit areas over the hills, notably Bijapur in Karnataka. They built the now shining Goa and manned its many menial services. Even as Goa became world's darling, immigrant labour and tourist influx were precipitating new social problems. Housing shortages, slum living, denial of civic rights are a commonplace. Slum children are also victims in the now notorious Goan crisis: paedophilia.

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