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By Ralin De Souza
Balmela Children enjoying a lighter moment
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Panjim, Dec. 29. Christmas has a special flavour among the Salesians in Goa with an event annually dedicated to the poor and marginalised, held on 19th December 2012.
Christmas has a special flavour among the Salesians in Goa with an event annually dedicated to the poor and marginalised, held on 19th December 2012. The day chosen, besides its proximity to Christmas, is Goa's liberation day from Portuguese colonial era.

Around 1,200 poor and marginalised children gather together for a day long encounter 'BALMELA' with its theme for this year - ''Aaj ke Bacche, Kal ke Sitare'' (children of today, Stars of tomorrow). Fr. Ian Figueiredo sdb - Provincial INP was the chief guest and Ms Farida Dias (Counsellor) was the guest of honour for the event.

The event is organised by Salesian commission for Young at Risk(YaR), a part of the Indian National Salesian initiative with various activities directed towards children who are homeless, orphans and marginalised of society. In the Salesian Panjim-Konkan province, which caters to the region of South Maharashtra, Goa and Uttar Karnataka, there have been various initiatives begun for the marginalised children. Mobile School, Tuition Classes in remote villages, self help groups, etc, have helped build families and focus on the poor. Unlike other similar events organised by NGOs, 'BALMELA' at Don Bosco's gathers together children from different NGO centres, as well as the unorganised sector, where children come from the areas where the activity is conducted.

BALMELA is a day-long event traditionally held on 19th December for a few years now, where transport is organised to bring the children to Don Bosco Panjim, from the various centres in Goa, and every child is registered at venue. After a quick welcome and snack, the children are led to enjoy a host of games of their choice. This is the time when volunteers and social workers interact, counsel and help the children interact with each other and express themselves.

Around lunch time, the children are organised in batches for lunch, after which performances on stage both by the children themselves and dance groups enthral them for a while. Finally, with a tea snack and a specially packed gift each, the children are led by transport to the venues they came from.

'Even though this is an event organised by the Salesians of Don Bosco', says Fr Arvind Severes sdb (Director MBBS, Paliem & Yar), 'we need to acknowledge the help that comes from so many quarters to make this event what it is today.' Another young volunteer Fiona Soares said, 'interacting and playing with the kids who are so happy and spontaneous, even though they are so deprived, is indeed an enriching experience.' She echoed the sentiments of 135 college and working youth volunteers for the event. To cater to this huge number of children are the staff of Konkan development services(KDS), numerous NGOs who accompany the children, the numerous youth from the various colleges of north Goa who volunteer, benefactors who contribute generously. This year, the Manipal Hospital has come forward to offer their ambulance and services of a medical team to assist the poor children. The enthusiasm from various quarters to be of service to the poor is truly encouraging.

True liberation is spreading this spirit of freedom to each segment of society. BALMELA 2012 has the poor and marginalised as its centre, giving poor children a taste of their childhood freedom.
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