Dear Mums and Tots of Warsaw,
My name is Agnieszka Strojna-Rasche, some will remember as Aga Rasche – I am Polish with three kids aged 13, 11, and 8, my husband is German. In January 2004 I came back to Poland after having spent 5 years abroad, and joined the international group of Mums and Tots.
We stayed in Warsaw until 2008, and I was active as coordinator and postmaster for Mums&Tots all those years.
A Polish friend of mine who had already been working as volunteer told me about the action “Letter to Santa”. The basic idea is to find a group of people (parish, friends, club) who are willing to organize Christmas presents for children from an orphanage.
I came up with the idea to find supporters within Mums&Tots and to promote the idea. So we had to find the address of an orphanage that so far had not got any support. As all orphanages in Warsaw already get support, especially in the time before Christmas we were looking for an orphanage in the rural, poorer regions of Poland – but still within a distance that can be reached by car within a day (going to and fro).
Finally we chose Pacanow from the list of orphanages – also because this name is known to everyone in Poland (Koziołek Matołek, a famous cartoon figure, comes from this place) – but we had never thought that Pacanow really exists.
Like many orphanages in Poland, also this one is run by nuns. So we contacted the sisters in November 2004, to ask them what they thought about the “Letters to Santa”. The sisters had never been offered any help like this before, and they immediately liked the idea. But the children would not believe that anyone would read their letters and fulfill their dreams. I still remember When I received the first envelope with all the children’s letters – I sat there for two hours, reading and crying.
It was no problem to distribute the letters among our friends and mothers from Moms&Tots. We collected the presents over the next weeks, and finally in January my friend and I drove with our car, fully packed with presents, to Pacanow.
Can you imagine the joy in the children’s eyes? Many of them had been abandoned by their parents, they had little trust in other people – and suddenly some strangers from far away Warsaw fulfilled their dreams. But would they come back – or would they be again abandoned and forgotten?
Each and everyone of my friends who have made the trip to Pacanow came back full of emotions – knowing that this had been one of the best things they had done the whole year over.
This little village in the mid of nowhere, more than an hour’s drive away from the next bigger town has little to offer. And now, once a year, there are the presents coming from Warsaw – which is as far away as Santa and the North Pole.
Since then, children at the orphanage have changed, there are other sisters running the orphanage, there are other mothers at Moms&Tots – but we are all part of a 10 year old tradition.
Our family has kept contact with the boy who we first bought a present, he has grown up to be an intelligent young man, who has found his way in life – and who even has been visiting us in our new home in Prague regularly.
Talking to the sisters in Pacanow we found out that not only the children in the orphanage are in need – but that there are many children from big families who are in even bigger need for help. There are children with unemployed parents, children’s whose parents have alcohol problems, or just children from really big families of 10 whose parents are struggling to make ends meet. In the first year we asked the school headmaster to give us the names of 10 kids in need. I still remember this one letter where the child just asked Santa for electricity – so they would not need to do their homework at candle light.
I ran “Letters to Santa” for four years, we also were able together with the charity organization, to send some of the kids for a summer vacation, we organized visits during the summer where we brought them summer shoes, clothes, and we also had with us lots and lots of second hand stuff.
I am so glad that after our move to Prague, Alia Radford did such a great job and continued supporting Pacanow in many many ways.
Many of the kids we were able to support have meanwhile left the orphanage, leading their independent lifes. But every year there are new kids coming who are in need of support.
I hope that in an organization like Mums&Tots, which sees continuous changes of its community, there will be a group of people who will support Jasna in keeping this unique support programme going. For sure it would be easier to give presents to an orphanage in Warsaw.
But isn’t it that you have to take an effort to be really happy? I do sincerely hope that you will take the effort – and I can assure you that this really will be one of the best things you did. Not only this Christmas, but this whole year.
To all the lovely Moms&Tots of Warsaw cordial greeting – Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
Aga Rasche, Prague