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The Warsaw Voice » Society » January 16, 2008
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United for Good Causes
January 16, 2008   
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Every year more people in Poland support charitable causes. New charity foundations are established and more humanitarian activities are carried out both at home and abroad. The number of volunteers, among both young people and adults, is also growing. Research shows that people are increasingly willing to dip into their pockets to help the needy, and their donations are getting bigger. This goes hand in hand with society's increased awareness about the consequences of wars, famine, disease, lack of clean water, medicines and many other reasons for suffering.

Among the nation's many charity organizations, several are leading the way.

Polish Humanitarian Organization

"To make the world a better place through reducing suffering and promoting humanitarian values."

Following free elections in Poland in 1989, Alain Michel, Zbigniew Chłap, Bogdana Pilichowska and Janina Ochojska (pictured) registered the EquiLibre Foundation in Cracow and Toruń, which was modeled after the French foundation of the same name. In December 1992, Ochojska set up an office in Warsaw in order to organize aid to Bosnia, and then followed up with another office in Łódź. Two years later, the Warsaw, Toruń and Łódź branches left EquiLibre and set up a foundation called the Polish Humanitarian Organization (PHO). The decision to set up the foundation grew out of a desire to extend aid to countries other than Poland. The organization's major aim is to help as many countries as possible and be involved in providing relief to the largest number of people. The Polish Humanitarian Organization provides emergency relief as well as long-term assistance. Emergency relief is provided to victims of disasters in Poland and abroad and to victims of war. Long-term aid goes to victims of structural poverty and oppressive socio-political systems. Apart from providing regular economic aid, the PHO conducts educational campaigns in various areas. Its campaign Pajacyk (The Clown) to help feed children in schools and daycare centers has been running in Poland since 2001. With the support of the PHO, work is being carried out to eliminate the drastic effects of totalitarianism and to rebuild schools in Iraq.

"The PHO also works with children and youth, organizing various meetings and workshops in schools as part of the 'The Humanitarian School' and 'The Global School' projects aimed at building awareness and sensitivity among the younger section of society towards suffering," said Ochojska. Since 2000 the PHO has organized many foreign missions. The first was established in Kosovo, followed by one in Chechnya less than a year later. The aim of the latter is to help meet the basic needs of the inhabitants of the city of Grozny. In the following years, missions were set up in Afghanistan and Iraq and then, after the huge tsunami, in Sri Lanka and in Sudan. The "Save Darfur" campaign was one of the PHO's greatest success stories recently. The conflict in Darfur has already claimed 200,000 lives. There are 2.5 million people living in refugee camps in the whole region. The inhabitants' biggest problem is an insufficient number of wells with drinking water. The lack of drinking water, not only in Darfur but also in other parts of the world, is the cause of about 6,000 deaths among children daily. Currently the PHO is drilling wells for the inhabitants of the Kringing I and Kringing II camps and the Ardamata camp in the western part of Darfur.

The media has helped make the campaign a success. Today many people in Poland willingly become involved in charitable activities, and the number of people ready to help has increased markedly over the past 15 years. However, greater media attention is need to reach the mature part of society. "Those campaigns that get media coverage achieve the greatest success, but unfortunately there are not enough of them," said Ochojska.

The PHO engages the whole community to help in its work, promoting the idea that everyone can help others according to their means.

Caritas Polska

"To be the voice of poor people"
Until the 19th century, the Roman Catholic Church helped people in shelters and hospitals and later it expanded its range of charitable activities to include feeding those in need. In 1929, the Church set up the Polish branch of an international foundation called Caritas. World War II did not hinder the organization's work, and in the early years after the war it continued to grow. However, in 1950, Poland's communist government declared the foundation illegal and the church's charity work went "underground." It was not until 40 years later that Caritas Polska was revived as a national body coordinating local activities. The aim of the foundation is to provide charitable services and humanitarian aid in order to meet the basic economic and spiritual needs of poor people.

Despite its Catholic spirit, Caritas works without regard to religion, race or gender. Caritas Polska concentrates mainly on people in need in Poland. "A Slice of Bread" and "Wings" are Caritas campaigns aimed at the homeless, the poorest section of society. Gifts and donations that the organization receives during its campaigns are allocated to initiatives such as helping feed children. Caritas feeds more than 100,000 children daily in Poland. Help is also given to victims of domestic violence and the unemployed. The organization provides financial assistance to various welfare centers and helps poor people buy medicines. Two years ago, Caritas Polska launched a campaign to help disabled people develop professional careers. The campaign is aimed at people with marked and moderate levels of disability between 18 and 60 years of age; it is conducted in the form of 10-day workshops. Each workshop includes sessions with a psychologist, educationalist and career advisor.

"Every child dreams about going on vacation. Let us help those who can't afford to make their dreams come true" was the slogan of Caritas' 2007 campaign aimed at organizing summer vacations for the poorest children in Poland and countries across its eastern border. Thanks to Caritas, 100,000 children went on vacation last year. "Unfortunately, this is only a drop in the ocean because some 65 percent of Polish children spent their vacations at home last year due to a lack of money," says Fr. Marian Subocz, director of Caritas Polska.

Caritas has about 60,000 volunteers, who work with 40,000 school students. "It is thanks to their work that we can do so much good in hospices, hospitals, welfare centers, crisis centers, our offices, parishes and schools," said Subocz.

Polish Red Cross

The Polish Red Cross Society was established in 1919. Eight years later the name was changed to Polish Red Cross (PCK) and its agenda and organizational activities were broadened to include first aid training, setting up rescue teams and collecting equipment. A Central Medical Emergency Station with a blood transfusion center was established in Łódź in 1935. A year later the nation's first Blood Transfusion and Conservation Institute was set up at a PCK-run hospital in Warsaw. At the beginning of World War II, the PCK made its hospitals, first aid centers, medical personnel and nurses, as well as thousands of volunteers, available to the army. The PCK also opened an additional 180 hospitals, many first aid centers and night shelters. The Polish Red Cross was particularly active in helping wounded soldiers, civilians and refugees. Despite the limitations put on it by the country's German occupiers, the PCK played a huge role during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. It provided relief on a wide scale to wounded soldiers and also came to the aid of the civilian population through its hospitals and first aid centers. The PCK also tried to make contact with people sent to Nazi concentration camps. Its diverse activities brought on enormous repression against PCK activists. Many of them were sentenced to death; others were sent to concentration camps. During the second day of the Warsaw Uprising, the Germans deliberately burned down the PCK headquarters together with its records and documents, many of which were invaluable to the nation and its history. However, Nazi repression did not stop PCK activists from continuing their Red Cross mission throughout World War II. Today the PCK has about 600,000 members in 11,000 branches, in addition to many volunteers and supporters, whose work is particularly visible during various emergency campaigns, such as providing relief to flood victims. Apart from providing economic assistance, the PCK organizes many national and international campaigns, such as "The Truth About AIDS. Pass It On" worldwide campaign. Its aim is to reduce discrimination against people with HIV, and particularly to provide information and teach young people how to avoid getting infected with the virus. The PCK has also joined the European "Road Safety Campaign," thanks to which drivers are trained in first aid and are learning about the dangers of inattention behind the wheel, and educational sessions are conducted in schools to increase children's safety on the road. But the PCK's most important campaign from its inception has been the collection of blood for hospitals.

United Way

The Wspólna Droga-United Way Polska Foundation aims to provide help to people and institutions in fields of welfare, healthcare and education as well as spreading knowledge on how to provide aid and how to take advantage of aid.

Through grants, in-kind donations and services, the foundation supports more than 100 welfare partner organizations. Funds are obtained thanks to cooperation with almost 60 partner companies and from the donations of private individuals. Wspólna Droga gives donors the possibility of choosing what they want their gift to be spent on. If they decide to help a specific group in a given province, the funds they donate go directly to support the programs of local partner organizations.

Joanna Matysiak
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