Song of hope

A group of schoolkids from Mumbai are raising money for cancer treatment of underprivileged children with a concert this Friday

Last summer, as part of a programme in her school that allows students to do voluntary work, 16-year-old Devika Madgavkar spent time with child patients admitted at Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Centre (TMC), Mumbai.

Devika and her schoolmates played with the young patients, and taught them arts and crafts, at TMC’s Dr. Ernest Borges Memorial Home which offers free housing to underprivileged cancer patients who come to Mumbai for treatment, often from distant parts of India.

“The kids spend a lot of their time getting treatment and don’t get a chance to play with other children. We just hoped to give them a chance to be creative and have fun,” she recalls. Most youngsters would have stopped there.

Finding a cause

Dr. Rohini Kelkar, director of laboratories and head of microbiology at TMC, who was Devika’s mentor during the volunteering work, said she kept asking what more could be done to help cancer patients.

When Dr. Kelkar informed her about the Runners for Hope Initiative (RuHI) that raises funds for treating cancer-afflicted underprivileged children, Devika said, “I am going to come back to you (on this).”

Founded in 2010 by Dr. Kelkar along with ultra-marathoner Amit Seth, Dr. Rajendra Badwe, director of TMC, and Dr. Shripad Banavali, TMC’s head of medical and paediatric oncology, RuHI has, so far, funded treatment for more than 600 children. Being run from within the hospital, RuHI’s turnaround time is almost immediate.

Once a child is diagnosed and it is determined that treatment must start immediately, funds are transferred directly to the child’s account with the hospital. And since there are no administrative costs or other outgoings, all donations go wholly and directly towards treatment.

Devika, who has sung since she was a toddler and played piano since she was seven, has been studying music with Alfred D’Souza, a well-known figure in Mumbai’s western music world. With him, she tentatively brought up an idea: how about a little event to raise awareness? A few friends singing, hire a small hall, sell tickets…

Mr. D’Souza, who is founder, chair and music director of the Stop-Gaps Cultural Academy, was immediately supportive. “I’ve also lost people to cancer, so it just struck a chord in my heart and I immediately said, whatever it is, we will do it,” Mr. D’Souza said.

“I asked the choir, and we said, let the Christmas concerts be over, then we’ll do this in March as a Carnival concert. I decided to ask a couple of choirs and a number of solo singers too, so as to attract a bigger audience,” he said.

“Initially, I was a little surprised,” Dr. Kelkar said. “I thought, how is this little child going to come and help. But she just came back to me, and said, we have planned this whole thing. And the plan was so well worked out. It’s amazing how the young generation thinks and works…”

A concerted effort

Since August, Devika and schoolmates Tanisha Agarwal, Inika Murkumbi, Sanchi Rohira and Avantika Garg have been hard at work. And this Friday will see them producing Carnival in Song, which will feature the Stop-Gaps senior and junior choirs, as well as two others, Victory Chorus Line and Salvation Singers, and a host of other well-known performers, including Ella Atai, Samantha Noella, Marie Paul, and Kim Cardoz, all appearing for free. And the ‘little’ concert will be at St. Andrew’s auditorium, which seats 800.

“The type of music we’re going to sing is calypso, bossa nova, samba, that sort of stuff,” said Mr. D’Souza. A full house will bring in somewhere between ₹2 and 3 lakh, but the initiative is expected to raise a lot more for the charity.

The five students have come up with a brochure about the concert, with stories about the children that it will benefit, and carnival masks that will be sold at the venue. Family and friends have picked up the tab for expenses like the auditorium (which the management has made available at a discount), printing, and refreshments for the performers.

Making the masks has been a collective effort, with children in the hospital involved as well as friends and family members of the five students. Together, revenues from ad space in the brochures, donations from trusts and corporate social responsibility budgets, and income from mask sales, are expected to rake in around ₹40 lakh.

Will this be a one-off initiative? “I really hope it continues,” Devika says. “It will be a wonderful thing to regularly support RuHI, because it does really good work. I haven’t actually thought that far, but, once this concert is over, we’ll see,” she adds.

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