Ace pianist by the age of 12, prominent businessman and the creative soul responsible for reviving the Carnival in Goa in the 80s and rolling out the state’s first colour newspaper pages in the 90s, Armando Gonsalves could easily relax and bask in the glory of his past achievements for the rest of his days.
Instead, this native of Goa is currently working tirelessly to drive positive change in the tropical state.
Operating from Campal, Panjim through his 15-room heritage home the Gonsalves Mansion (aka Home of Jazz in India), Armando carries out this social mission through Goa ForGiving—an enterprise that engages Goans and lovers of Goa from different walks of life to safeguard the western state’s natural beauty and unique cultural identity.
Son of Matias Gonsalves, a successful businessman and Aduzinda, a woman who spent most of her life on social work, Armando grew up knowing he would be truly happy only if he ran a successful business that was also highly involved in social service and development.
But as the years went by, he became deeply focused on only striking property deals and making profits. It was not until a personal crisis in the form of a divorce with his ex-wife in 2001 that he stopped to re-evaluate his life.
He realised he was emotionally drained and filled with a sense of hopelessness and resentment. He soon began to find it increasingly difficult to even concentrate on work. Life, as he knew it, was frighteningly coming to a standstill.
But then a visit to an orphanage in Agassaim, a small village in north Goa, with his mother and his children on his birthday, in July 2002, changed things dramatically.
“Participating in song and dance with the children at the orphanage was life changing for me. This was the seed that kept on growing, as my family, sadly sans my wife, went about touching hearts in old age homes, schools, associations for the blind and the like. Simultaneously, I gave myself to Jazz as we started Heritage Jazz which is a brand that does work in uplifting Goa’s cultural, musical and architectural heritage. It was during that time, I also got deeply involved in serving my motherland Goa, and went about doing anything that would make my children proud,” says Armando passionately.
It was not long before he started Goa ForGiving based on Giving and Forgiving—the two principles he believes were responsible for healing him emotionally and changing his life dramatically.
Today, along with Shaeen—his wife and chairperson of Goa ForGiving—Armando uses his influence and resources as a successful businessman and local celebrity to be the change he wants to see in his motherland, Goa.
Here are excerpts of our interview with this radical changemaker:
Hi Armando, as founder of Goa ForGiving, what is your vision for the organisation?
Goa ForGiving is about doing things for others, and as our tagline says, “We do things that make Goa proud”, we follow this deep inside our hearts. The very name, Goa ForGiving stands for “giving” and “forgiving”. So, the core vision is in the name itself, though we carry this forward in many ways including via the words in our tagline as well as by keeping ourselves firmly grounded in the philosophy of doing things that make Goa proud.
How do you keep yourself, your staff and volunteers emotionally invested in this vision?
We do various things to keep the fire burning. Whether it is the Campal Creek, or the Taste of Goa, or various music and art workshops in schools and slums, we keep powering our energy wherever we can. One of our latest projects has been the very successful “Goenkarponn” song that has touched the hearts and imagination of Goans worldwide. The song, which highlights the real meaning of “Goanness”, is doing extremely well and we have almost touched 2 lakh purely organic views on YouTube, thus bringing in a worldwide audience to the cause of Goa ForGiving. The song has given us a tremendous boost as it has brought eyeballs to our work, and we are delighted that we could do this so effectively.
What is Goa ForGiving currently involved in?
A project that keeps us on our toes is our commitment to the Campal Creek rehabilitation project. We have been in the forefront of creating the right vibrations so as to bring about change in the status of the now squalid waterway which the Government has sadly insisted is a “nullah” instead of what it actually is: a God-given tidal action creek. Our job is to keep the issue alive in the minds and hearts of the people of Goa, because, that is the only way that things will change for the better.
Besides the Campal Creek, we are also involved in our brand, the ‘Taste of Goa’. Across the world, any capital city is powered by the quality of food that is dished out by various stakeholders. Taste of Goa is about changing the axis in what tourism rests at this point in time, from sex, drugs, sloth and sleaze to the axis of music, art, culture, food, heritage and the subtler things of life. Would it not be interesting that Panjim is the Food Capital of the East? That is part of our vision.
What support from the government and the people of Goa can currently make a huge difference to your work through Goa ForGiving?
The Government can do a lot in supporting the work that we do. But I have noticed that they are hardly interested, and I really wonder why. I would like to add here that our commitment to Goa is way beyond politics, and no one should ever be worried that our work will take a political turn.
The People of Goa can support our work in the form of being volunteers and supporters in myriad ways. And it is not that we are not getting support. In our fight against the Government in the Coconut Tree issue, we did take the Government to court, and it was so satisfying when Senior Lawyers supported our case absolutely pro bono.
Besides, we do get support from journalists, media house owners, students, bloggers and many others, in our bid to take our work to a much bigger platform. We are delighted that we get this support which has been from across the globe.
What are the biggest challenges that the organisation has faced so far?
One of the challenges is to raise funds to run what we do. Currently, Goa ForGiving is running on internal accruals, thus boring a big hole in my personal pocket. So, finance is a big challenge, and the other is a set of volunteers who can help us take our vision forward. Another challenge is the lack of support from the Government.
In your opinion, what is the root cause of most of Goa’s social and cultural issues today?
Communalism is the biggest scourge that is affecting Goa today. The communal virus has infected the grassroots, and is affecting each and every other issue, because, instead of fighting issues that matter, people are divided on communal lines, thus obscuring all the positive vision that is there to be accomplished.
If we don’t manage our emotions, it will be difficult to take Goa on to the highway of peace and progress. Goa ForGiving has a role to play since our philosophy is based on forgiveness, and this is what is paramount in the current scenario. We do hope we can do more in this regard.
Is there any message you would like to give the residents and visitors of Goa on behalf of Goa ForGiving?
Goa is at the crossroads, and unless we pull back from the dirty corners of Corruption and Communalism, we will be doomed. I have an original saying “Just because your mother is beautiful, you don’t become her pimp”. And yes, many of us have pimped our beautiful Mother Goa whether it is in the Real Estate or Mining Businesses amongst others.
We need to be united to make this happen, and I do have great hope that the youth will respond to this call of saving Goa. And the way to save Goa is to Transform Goa via a paradigm shift in thought and deed. I do believe we can do that, but we have to get our act together, NOW!