Fifty-two-year-old Dr. Luis Francisco Dias was only six when he first came across a situation which made him question the socio-economic disparity in India. He had gone to buy a tea-time snack from a nearby shop. There was a beggar in tattered clothes, pointing at the samosas displayed in the glass showcase. The beggar was signalling that he wanted to eat something. “However, he was kicked and driven away with foul words,” Dr. Dias recalls.
As he grew up, Dr. Dias studied medicine and became an obstetrician and gynaecologist, but music was his real passion. In the absence of the internet or proper guidance, he didn’t know how he could learn and channelise his love for music.
“In 1998, I got a chance to study and work in England; I took it up not only to add to my qualification, but also for the opportunity it offered to explore music and culture about which I had only read or heard,” says Dr. Dias, who was keen to listen to the world’s best symphony orchestras and perform in them too.
“Within months of arriving in the U.K., I began to play for the Corinthian Chamber Orchestra. When you play in an orchestra, you begin to see the beauty of the architecture of music,” he says.
On a weekend in January 2007, Dr. Dias asked his wife Chryselle over coffee: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we gave musical instruments to street children living in our cities and villages and trained them to play these instruments? If we could do that, we would have orchestras everywhere, all over the country.” May be the image of that beggar he saw as a child remained in his memory. Dr. Dias says the idea actually came from an article he read then about a foreigner who came to India and did an experiment. He gave around 50 cameras to children living in a slum area. “Without knowing anything about focus, light or aperture, the kids shot some amazing pictures. It unlocked their creativity and revealed that they found beauty even in their deprivation. It set me thinking about unlocking their musical creativity.”
During the 10 years that Dr. Dias lived in England, he attended the BBC Proms Music Festival in London every year. In March 2007, he found that The El Sistema Simón Bolívar Orchestra from Venezuela and Buskaid Soweto String Project Orchestra from South Africa were made up of underprivileged kids. “I watched the performance of the South African orchestra. There were children, barely teenagers, standing in the centre of the Royal Albert Hall alongside professional musicians. They played with complete confidence with no trace of stage fright,” says Dr. Dias, who felt that some divine power was telling him that he could do this as well.
After the concert, he met the children. One of them told him how music had changed his life. “He meant that if no one had put a violin in his hands, he would have held a gun, a knife or a hypodermic syringe,” adds Dr. Dias.
This made him see a connection between his passion for music and his desire to create social empowerment. He left a lucrative career in medicine in the U.K. and came back to Goa to establish Child’s Play India Foundation in June 2009.
Since its inception, the Foundation has taught violin, cello, viola, recorder, transverse flute, clarionet and piano to more than 350 underprivileged children in and around Goa. Most of the children come from a background where domestic violence and alcoholism are common.
The Foundation works on several projects in Goa. The classes are held at a child shelter called Hamara School, Auxilium School in Caranzalem and in Santa Cruz, a village.
“I’ve been learning to play the violin, cello and choir for the last ten years and it has been a wonderful experience,” says Irfan Shimpigar, (19) a student at Child’s Play.
Gry Noerby, a Danish music teacher, who taught cello to 24 students for six months at Child’s Play, says, “It has been a positive experience for me to teach these students. Their enthusiasm and motivation to learn have been a great inspiration for me as a teacher.”
Gry feels that the Foundation’s effort to take classical music to these children is both amazing and heartwarming. “Besides the joy of playing an instrument, classical music has positive impact on their mind such as improving their concentration and self esteem.”
Sixteen-year-old Celina Kerketta, who has been learning to play the flute here for the last eight years, finds the training fascinating. Originally from Jharkhand, she has been living in Goa for the past 11 years. Her father works at a construction site while her mother is a house maid.
This year, Child’s Play India Foundation completes a decade of its musical journey. “We run a scheme called Adopt a Musician, wherein people can defray the cost of music education of one child with just Rs 6,000,” says Dr. Dias.
Music transcends the boundaries of rich and poor, class, race, culture and religion.
“Most of the socio-political issues plaguing us today stem from the fact that we aren’t listening to each other. Playing in an orchestra teaches us to listen to each other while making us better humans,” points out Dr. Dias.
Child’s Play India Foundation may be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit them online at http://childsplayindia.org/
Dr. Luis Dias wears many hats — he is a physician, musician, writer, photographer, wildlife enthusiast and a history buff.
He comes from a family of four generations of doctors. His family lives in Casa da Moeda (house of coins), a heritage building in Panjim that once was the Royal Mint. The building functioned as the Mint of Goa from 1834-1841. He can play the violin, piano, cello and viola. His favourite, however, is the violin