The Most Beautiful Festival in the World
September 26, 2020 8:53 AM   Subscribe

Jurek Owsiak is a Polish radio and TV journalist, a stained glass maker, and a licensed psychotherapist. In 1993, he encouraged his listeners to collect funds for a collapsing pediatric cardiac surgery unit. That project grew into the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity (WOŚP / Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy) which does an annual fund drive. 92% of the money collected goes to purchase medical equipment which provides every diabetic child in Poland with a free insulin pump, funds universal hearing screening for infants/newborns, buys modern medical equipment for struggling hospitals. The second Sunday of January is a day-long nationwide colorful public fundraising holiday with 120,000 volunteers distributing collection boxes, street musicians, and a telethon, culminating in a Grand Finale concert and Light in the Sky laser and fireworks display. In the summer the organization organizes "Polish Woodstock" (YT playlist) as a thank you to all its volunteers.
posted by jessamyn (5 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I accidentally wound up at the Woodstock festival about 10ish years ago. I recall a sea of punks, hippies and metalheads heading down the road and then being in a field with many drunken teenagers, a Polish Judas Priest style band on stage, and actual Catholic priests everywhere. It was massive, and fun. Had no idea it was all for a good cause! ... and now I know why there were priests marching around.
posted by romanb at 9:23 AM on September 26, 2020

WOŚP was one of my favorite parts of living in Poland. Thanks for this great post!
posted by mdonley at 9:53 AM on September 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

Thank you Jessamyn!
The Orchestra is a beloved tradition. For donating, you get a red heart sticker with the words Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy and you walk around and everyone else is wearing these stickers. Even TV anchors used to wear them until recently.

They also put the stickers on every piece of equipment purchased by the Orchestra. In every hospital, you see the stickers on monitors, incubators, infusion pumps - the equipment is everywhere. The Orchestra saved thousands of premies some of whom are now adult Orchestra volunteers.
posted by M. at 11:57 AM on September 26, 2020

Incidentally, the charity is emphatically secular and since the now-ruling party came into power, has come under attack from state media.
Despite the attacks, the 2020 Orchestra Finale broke all previous records. As the mission statement puts it, "We will play until the end of the world. and then one more day."
posted by M. at 12:07 PM on September 26, 2020 [7 favorites]

It might look paltry in the charity-focussed US or UK with things like the Salvation Army or Red Nose Day, but WOŚP is the single largest fund drive in Poland and the only one with such a scale. When it started in the 90s it was absolutely new for us, with Owsiak leveraging his TV presenter fame into something that actually brought the country together. The other major charity by receipts in Poland is run by the Catholic Church (Caritas) and the relations there have been... complicated, largely due to some bishops claiming monopoly over collecting for charity. This has been quite interesting when the right wing is in power like now, but it seems to coincide with absolutely record fundraising for the Orchestra.

Polish volunteers have organised Orchestra finals all over the world - last year there were 100 foreign staff centrals, including not just major Polish settlements like Iceland or Georgia, but also Indonesia, Tanzania and Cyprus.

A major component of the funding drive is the auction of items from all over the world - from golden versions of the WOŚP heart sticker to gifts from both regular people and celebrities, politicians, ambassadors. Past items have included Olga Tokarczuk's Nobel prize medal, spending a whole day with Donald Tusk during his time as President of the European Council, custom comedy performances, actual airplanes and tanks, legendary Polish musicians and actors coming to your house to wash your dishes (with a custom playlist), and being the Minister of the Economy for a day.

Previously, in a much sadder context...
posted by I claim sanctuary at 1:13 PM on September 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

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