Eliza Banicka is a cute 12 year old girl with red pigtails, who is suffering from Niemann-Pick Syndrome: the same disease that took the life of her older brother, Michal.

Adding to Eliza’s parents anguish is the fact that the only available medication, Zavesca, is not covered by the national health insurance in Poland. And its cost is beyond the reach of an average citizen- at about 12 thousand a month! So a group of people, most of whom have never seen each other in real life, gathered together over different social media in a desperate attempt to save little Eliza. Other than lobbying the politicians and spreading awareness in the media, they started a spontaneous action of making rag dolls that would be sold online on Allegro (a buy-and-sell portal similar to eBay) with all proceeds going to cover the cost of Zavesca.

At the same time, they were advertising it on Facebook and throughout other online communities. The group established The Red Pigtails Day on March 11th, which is Eliza’s birthday, as a gesture of solidarity with the victims of Niemann-Pick. Posters and flyers started circulating with the more and more familiar face of the little redheaded girl in a pink t-shirt. As the politicians were reluctant to offer a solution, many ordinary people reached out to help.

The first dolls barely made it to their new owners when the “snowball effect” started rolling throughout Poland. Little town community centers and big city halls, actors, musicians, children book writers, local libraries, schools, including the boarding schools for mentally and physically challenged children, and even the inmates of the correctional institutions were all touched by Eliza’s story. Some of the dolls are meticulously finished and dressed; some are a little crooked; some show a pretty rough stitch work, but every single one of them has a little heart sewn inside, a name and a life story given to her by her or his (because there are boy dolls as well) creator. People begin to feel that they are helping themselves by helping this little ill girl.

The dolls help in many ways. They help those who make them: the inmates, the disabled, the elderly who often feel they themselves are a burden to the society. Some dolls after the auction are being sent to the Children’s Hospice in Wrocław; they bring smiles to the little patients in their final weeks and days. And of course the proceeds help the Banickis purchase Zavesca.

There is a group of traveling dolls that go to the local markets and to the towers of Dubai; they fly to Israel, Toronto and Cuba. They “talk” about Eliza and her dire situation. Because as noble and widespread the efforts are, Eliza’s fate is still very grave unless the government starts to listen. Twelve thousand dollars a month is an unreachable amount month after month, after month…. But for now, until the government wakes up, new posters are showing up in different cities, inviting people to bring their sewing machines and smiling faces to another doll-making event. And the dolls keep sprouting up in every part of Poland!

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