At the UvA, there is quite a significant population of Polish students. With our country historically scarred and politically divided – relationships, friendships, even acquaintanceships – all can turn sour or be broken within seconds if political and societal values don’t align. With exponentially increasing political turmoil and dissatisfaction with the government and our appearance on the world stage, it may seem impossible for everyone to, even for a moment, call a truce and put our proverbial weapons down.
And this is exactly what WOŚP succeeds in doing.
WOŚP – or Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy, translated to “The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity”, is the biggest NGO non-profit charity organization raising money for pediatric and elderly care, in which many Polish students take part. Every year, a day-long volunteer-organized fundraiser is held all across the country and abroad, inviting artists and musicians to fundraise. Imperatively, in every Polish city and town, volunteers are sent with so-called “cans” in which they collect personal donations from passers-by, who in return receive heart-shaped stickers with Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy printed on them. Finally, a telethon called the “Grand Finale” is organized and broadcast nationally, held on the same day in the evening. Every Grand Finale is thematic, with the 2023 31st Grand Finale pertaining to the purchase of medical equipment for the early diagnosis of the bacterial infection which causes sepsis.
Being in Amsterdam, it may seem like a far-away event. Alas, the Polish community, regardless of where they are, feel naturally drawn to and miss the annual celebration of charity, togetherness, and magnanimity which each year brings the divided country together to work towards a common, non-political cause. Hence, a collection center also exists in Amsterdam, located in the Polish Library.
Entering the lower level of the library, bright, joyous WOŚP posters hung in every corner, volunteers rushed left and right, an entire kitchen had been set up in a separate room where volunteers hurried to make the guests pierogi, mulled wine, and traditional Polish cakes. In the adjacent space, a concert area was set up, where a rapper was performing, as people gathered around the stage to listen and talk amongst the laughter, cakes, and colorful decorations.
Martyna Zimek, a Polish student at the UvA, signed up as a volunteer to run the event back in October. When asked about how her journey with volunteering at WOŚP started, she laughed and said “To be honest, I don’t really remember, because when I was little, my parents wanted me to go with them to volunteer, so I just went with them, like eight years ago, probably. And then starting like eight years ago till now, I volunteer for WOŚP somewhere every year.”
As many others do, Martyna also views the charity event as one of connecting Poles all over the world. “I would say that it shows that all the people are together and everyone wants to help,” she says, standing next to her current post, where people can donate money and in return pick out second-hand books. “Everyone is like a part of something bigger. And that’s amazing, this one day, and everyone is like one big family, truly.”
Nevertheless, WOŚP around the globe had also suffered in-person presence due to the pandemic. Due to the limitations set by safety measures and government regulations, the Amsterdam volunteers had to resort to live-streaming and online fundraising for their Polish audience in the Netherlands.
“This is the first time since COVID-19 that we are back to in-person fundraising,” says one of the main organizers. “It’s about being together on this day, and opening our hearts not only on this day, but every day, to instill the willingness, kindness, and selflessness to help. Because in day-to-day lives we are all chasing money, fame, and material possessions, and no one appreciates such seemingly ordinary moments, where we are together, that we can meet to have fun, that we can raise money to help those who do not have this money.”
Most importantly, this event is not reserved for Poles only. When asked about what she would say to non-Polish students interested in the event, the organizer smiled. “I would like to tell them: join, come, see, and have fun with us. I myself have now taken a Dutch friend with me as well. He felt a bit strange at first, but soon he got so motivated to help that he asked whether he could involve his Dutch colleagues. I would say to the Polish students who live here – you can take your international friends to such a party, let them come for even just half an hour, even just to taste the Polish food. This way they could be introduced to it – and see that us Poles, although usually divided, can join together for this one day and see that we, too, know how to have fun.”