The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity | Poland's Big-hearted Charity

07 Nov 2023

No, Charlie Brown, this isn’t the name of your next film; the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity (known in PL as 'WOŚP - Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy’) is one of Poland’s biggest non-profit charity organisations which has raised billions of złoty to buy medical equipment for the Polish health system since it began in 1993.

Founded by a man who can best be described as a force of nature, Jerzy Owsiak, WOŚP is essentially a huge fundraising organisation aimed at raising awareness and lots of money for the health care of children and seniors. Initially organised to provide “health care for children by supplying medical equipment to public hospitals,” WOŚP changes its beneficiary cause each year and has since raised money for child victims of motor accidents and children with serious vision problems. In its first year, WOŚP raised 1.5 million USD but since these early days it has become the biggest event of its kind in Poland, blowing past targets and breaking records each consecutive year.

In 2023, WOŚP raised over 243 million złoty to help fight sepsis. In 2024 the charity will be raising funds to repair post-pandemic lungs in children and adults.

The larger than life founder of WOŚP, Jerzy Owsiak. Photo: WOŚP

Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity Grand Finale

Once a year the Great Orchestra’s final event is organised by volunteers in virtually every town in Poland, with hundreds of bands playing for free at various festival sites in almost every town in PL. On that day - January 28th in 2024 - you’ll see volunteers everywhere you go, and wherever you are in PL you can expect some sort of illuminated manifestation at 20:00 which is called ‘Light to the Heavens’ (formerly a huge fireworks displayed before smog concerns stopped it in most cities). A truly virtuous and remarkably successful project, those who have enough heart to contribute will receive one as well: the iconic red heart sticker which you will see on everyone in town this day. And you can have a heart too, Scrooge. Go on. ‘It’s for the kids.’
WOŚP volunteers in Wrocław; photo by Marcin Zielinski.

Although what has always been a unifying event across Poland has become increasingly politicised by the Law & Justice political party (PiS), and 2019's event was tragically overshadowed by the assassination of the President of Gdańsk Paweł Adamowicz, the incredible results show that support for this initiative is still extremely strong and even growing after over three decades of activity. Do participate if you can.


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