When we say “Polish Humanitarian Action”, we think “Janka”.

Photo: Maciej Zienkiewicz / AG

Janka is the founder and president of PAH. She is an extremely modest woman, an undisputed authority in the field of humanitarian aid. She was born on 12 March 1955 in Gdańsk. She graduated from a high school in Zabrze and went on to make a degree in the astronomy department at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. She has always been an active community worker – as a student she participated in the activities of the Jesuit University Chaplaincy, and from 1976 she was an oppositionist and an activist of the trade union NSZZ Solidarność in Toruń. Her aim in life she discovered in France, where she had an operation in 1984. It is there that she first encountered the idea of a humanitarian organisation – EquiLibre, where she worked as a volunteer. She coordinated the French medical and food aid for Polish hospitals and she organised support convoys to Bosnia.

She felt a desire to bring humanitarian activity to her home country and inspire the Polish people to care for those in need. On the initiative of Alain Michel and with the help of prof. Zbigniew Chłap, Bogdana Pilichowska and Janka, the Polish EquiLibre Foundation was created. Its aim was to distribute foreign aid in Poland and to propagate patterns of social self-organisation. Janka was the initiator of the first humanitarian aid convoy to Sarajevo. Two years later she decided to break away from EquiLibre. Using the experienced she had gained, she established the Polish Humanitarian Action Foundation. She organised the first Polish aid mission in Kosovo, then in Chechnya, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Sudan, Darfur and the Palestinian National Authority. Since the establishment of the Foundation, she has been developing and promoting PAH, ceaselessly acting in the field.

Photo: Janka receives a Lech Wałęsa Award, photo by K. Kuczyk

Janka is the winner of many prestigious awards, including a distinction awarded by the POLCUL Foundation from Australia (1993), the title “Woman of Europe 1994” awarded by the European Community in Brussels, St. George Medal awarded by the magazine “Tygodnik Powszechny” (1994), Pax Christi International Peace Award (1995), Atsushi Nakata Memorial from Japan (1996), Jan Karski Award “For Courage and Heart” awarded by the American Culture Center and Freedom House in Washington, D.C. (2002), Legion of Honour Order awarded by the President of the French Republic (2003), Józef Tischner Award in the category of pastoral and social initiatives shaping the Polish dialogue between the Church and the world (2006), Jerzmanowscy Award (2009) honouring her humanitarian activity, and Lech Wałęsa Award (2010) for many years of promoting the idea of interpersonal solidarity through charity activities. In 2011 she received the Humanitarian Hero of the Year.