Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Great Orchestra

This is probably one of the most awesome things I will ever write about.

Every year in January, Poland explodes with a nationwide charity event called The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity. The organisation collects money for a different cause every year, usually focusing on pediatric care and neo-natal medical equipment.

WOŚP, or GOCC- literally the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity.

This sounds ordinary enough until you find out that...

In 1993, during the very first Orchestra, the foundation raised 1,5 million U.S. dollars, an unexpected success. So, the Foundation was formed and a new event organised every year for the next 19 years...

And so, in just ONE day last year, the amount raised came to over 13 million U.S. dollars.

One day.  Crazy, no?

And the sum of 19 years of such days is a staggering 125 million USD.

It's an unquestionable fact by now that in Poland, for just one day, everyone's pockets open up. Children bring their jars of pennies, adults donate precious items and jewellery. A small coin or a bill- every little bit counts, and the evidence is in the numbers. Thirteen million dollars last year bought much-needed equipment to help hospitals treat newborns and young children with urological and kidney diseases.

WOŚP 2012
A heart made out of copper coins- people are encouraged to bring their smallest change and throw it
into the pattern. Many companies and businesses also brought bags of coins to add to the pile.

This year, the money collected will buy equipment to save prematurely born children, and insulin pumps for pregnant diabetics.

Thanks to the Orchestra and the equipment they finance, certain medical conditions which used to be a grave issue are now 100% treatable in Poland.

I believe that's the definition of awesome. The Orchestra's motto is 'We will play until the end of the world and one day longer', and for 20 years now they have lived up to it.

So, how do they do it?

Peace, love, and rock'n'roll. The hippyish philosophy works wonders on this one day a year. Free concerts are set up all over the country, with celebrities, musicians, sound and light companies and many, many other people donating their time. The national television's Channel Two dedicates the entire day to the event, transmitting live from all over the country.

WOŚP 2012
The City Guard ride through Łódź brandishing the GOCC banner.

120 thousand volunteers walk around Poland that day. That's 120 thousand people who have to be trusted not to take the money and run- and, as the Foundation points out, the numbers suggest that an overwhelming majority proves to be honest. I was a volunteer a few times, it's a popular thing to do when you're a teenager- statistics say 11% of Poles were volunteers for the Orchestra at least once in their lives. You get a cardboard money bank, a laminated ID card, and several sheets of heart-shaped stickers. There are a few rules- you may not solicit any money before, or after the Finale Day. And knocking on people's doors is not allowed. But whoever drops money into the box gets a sticker, and so for the next few weeks you will see people walking around town with red hearts stuck to their coats and hats.

My friend and I way back in 1997 when I volunteered for the first time.
The angel wings definitely got people's attention.

WOŚP 2012
Pony sporting heart stickers during this year's horse parade in Łódź

Similarly, the equipment bought with the foundation's help is also marked with their symbol- you will  see the red heart on quite a few hospital machines and ambulances.

Ambulance with GOCC logo- Wikimedia Commons file by Wikimedia user Reytan.

But the streets is not the only place where it happens. Items of value are donated for special auctions- online, even regular users can decide to donate their proceeds to the Foundation thanks to an official partnership from the auction site. And celebrities do their part- this year for example we have an auction for an invitation to an NBA match from NBA player Marcin Gortat, a fountain pen belonging to the late president Kaczyński, and even a special custom made bike from Paul Jr. of Orange County Choppers.

(My favourite, however, must be the pilot hat of Captain Wrona- the skilled airline pilot who elegantly set a 767 plane down without any landing gear this last November.)

The day in which all the collections take place is called the Great Finale. It starts bright and early in the morning with tv transmissions from the man behind all of this madness- Jurek Owsiak, a cheerful 59 year-old in bright red glasses with a characteristic stutter. With the donated help of airlines, helicopters and various transport companies he travels around the country, going from town to town before returning to Warsaw for the "Light to the sky". At eight pm all over the country fireworks go off as a thank you to everyone who took part in the event, and everyone is encouraged to light a candle, flashlight, phone, anything they can, and raise it to the heavens to show that we are here, that we are one, and that we CAN achieve great things together.

9/365: Christmas Charity
GOCC Finale in Łódź, 2011.

Another way of saying 'thank you' is the yearly Woodstock Festival, also organised by the Orchestra in the summertime. It is currently the biggest open-air concert in Europe.

It's kind of insane. 

This festival, while also free to attend is financed separately from the January charity event, through different sponsors. One of the important things about GOCC is their careful and detailed account of how they spend the money- it makes them all the more trustworthy in the public sight, and that matters when you're trying to save children's lives!

As if all that weren't enough, the Foundation also teaches CPR in schools, recruits special Peace Rescue Patrols that volunteer in dispensing first aid at public events, and run nationwide programs for early cancer diagnostics, hearing screenings, treatment of retinopathy in preemies, and diabetic therapy for children. And then some more. In 2010, they organised an additional, almost spontaneous collection for the victims of heavy floods from that summer- handing out special, blue heart stickers.

Here's an English-language film they produced explaining what they do.

And if you're abroad, you can take part, too! Either by bidding on an auction, by donating, or by joining the crew. Here is a list of foreign staff bases- we have them in the US, on the British Isles, in Germany, and even in Afghanistan.

Til the end of the world, and one day longer!

Meta information:

GOCC (WOŚP) logo is copyrighted to WOŚP and used under the terms of fair use with the intent of identifying the organisation:

GOCC official website in english:

Wikipedia entry about Jurek Owsiak:

Image of ambulance from Wikimedia Commons:

No comments:

Post a Comment