The Golden Heart of Goa

Goa has a heart. It makes you believe in the power of humanity. And that is because of people like Karen Roach. In a world, full of strife and animosity, Karen is a rare find. Dabbling in myriad jobs in various sectors like shipping, hospitality, public relations and marketing and traversing through an assortment of cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Kolkata, Delhi and a short stint in Kochi, Karen found her home and her calling in Goa.

By: Anuja Mavinkurve

Discontented with her corporate stint, Karen resolved to retire at the pinnacle of her career at 45 years of age, after working non-stop, for more than twenty five years. She felt the urge to give back to society and that initiated the move back to Goa.

In her modest apartment in Calangute, Karen sits encompassed with the strays she has so painstakingly rescued. Two tiny kittens and three stray dogs, one of them named Shanti, share her unpretentious abode. When she opened her door and her heart to me, her warm, infectious smile and her virtuous heart, brought about an emotion of contentment of meeting an old friend.

Way back in 2007, Karen was diagnosed with cervical cancer in Goa. While she underwent treatment for the dreaded disease, something deep inside her changed shape. Karen encountered poor people, who had no access to the financial security that is provided by a mediclaim policy. She resolved to help them and the idea of Go’an shave was conceived. The Go’an Shave is a shaving initiative of which the proceeds would go to the organizations which work for cancer victims. It was a platform where anybody could donate their hair, which would be used to make wigs for the patients.

The shaven hair is auctioned and the proceeds go for wig making for the patients, who suffer from hair loss, due to side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. In her inimitable style, Karen describes Go’an Shave as a ‘big party for the big disease’. They shave heads in solidarity to those who lose their hair. It is a gesture to show them that ‘Bald is Beautiful’.

Since 2013, this annual event is like a huge party. Musicians, photographers, hairstylists, journalists and other celebrated people from all walks of life, come in and pool in their time, effort, talent, money and other resources for this noble cause.

Statistically, breast cancer has overtaken other forms of cancer in Goa. Determined to assist the women patients, Karen arranges a Goa Medical College (GMC) team to visit the patients at their homes to assist them with post-treatment care. She also works toward providing prosthetics for breast cancer victims.

But, cancer was the least of Karen’s problems. Soon, she was diagnosed with Lupus, a rare autoimmune disease. But, nothing could stop this feisty lady. Instead of wallowing in self-pity or being despondent about the situation, Karen poured out her heart and initiated another project named Happy Karma Now, a secure sanctuary for underprivileged kids to escape abusive parents and learn skills in a fun way.

Goa is home to a sizeable number of migrant labour populace. The children of these labourers have no refuge during the time when their parents are off to work, which is often for more than 12 hours a day. These children used to be out on the streets. Due to covid, schools had opted for online studies, and these children had no access to online educational facilities.

The large-hearted Karen offers these underprivileged kids a snug shelter, where she teaches, looks after and grooms them. Her home welcomes them with love where they play games, listen to music, and spend time doing creative stuff like crafts and arts. Karen arranges picnics, play sessions at the beach or parks, or educational visits to the planetarium, museums or science centres. Happy Karma Now is a protected sanctum for these destitute kids where Karen gently nurtures and supports them to blossom into good individuals.

A few years ago, Karen’s maid was struggling to keep her son in daycare while she went to work. Seeing her plight, Karen asked her maid to leave her son, Abdul with her during her work hours. Abdul came along and got his friends, who in turn got more children into the fold, and that marked the beginning of the journey for Happy Karma Now.

And that is not the entire story. There is more to Karen’s repertoire of benevolent deeds. She volunteers to help at old age homes, giving them the most valuable asset in today’s engrossed, bustling world, her invaluable time. “They just need to be needed, like all of us. Just help them, listen to them, lend a friendly ear and have hearty conversations with the aged people. They do not want money. All they want is your time”, says Karen, when asked about what motivates her to work for the elderly.

As her ailing father, stayed with her for a long time, under her tender, watchful care, till he passed away, she can empathize with and understand the issues of the elderly, who are in their twilight years. Karen feels that, while the underprivileged children, abandoned, stray animals and destitute women get assistance and aid easily, it is the aged who often tend to get sidelined and forsaken. Karen assists them, narrates stories, talks to them, lends a sympathetic ear, takes along a band of musicians to play for them, organizes intimate events and picnics and tries and boost their spirits. And in the midst of all this, she manages to find time to rescue strays and abandoned animals. Karen gets her love for animals from her doting father, who once rescued little tiger cubs while vacationing at a remote hill station.

Karen is a big believer. Her faith in God inspires her to continue her humanitarian work. She believes in the motto – ‘You have one life. Help each other. Now is the best time’. More power to her and her ilk of compassionate souls. 

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Author: Planet Goa Team
For us at Planet-Goa, our team is driven by that feeling of exhilaration that one gets when discovering that something ‘unique’ and ‘new’ about Goa for our ever-so-discerning readers.

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