While a butterfly flapping its wings could theoretically create a tornado, a small act of kindness can grow just as large, touching more and more people until it snowballs into something larger than life. Every day we go about our business thinking that the small things we do won’t have a big impact — but they can!
While Serious Request, a Dutch annual event to raise money for charity, was already a well-known phenomenon in 2016, it was the appearance of a young boy with bright fingernails that kick-started a nation-wide movement that eventually captivated the world…
Every year since 2004, during the holiday season, a special event takes place in a different major Dutch city’s main square. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country come to witness the sensation, watch it on TV, and talk about it for weeks to come.
It’s a charity event called Serious Request, colloquially dubbed as “the glass house.” Radio DJs from station 3FM lock themselves up in, you guessed it, a glass house for a week to play music 24/7, for everyone to see.
They play games, hang out with celebrities, and dance along with the crowd outside when a popular tune comes on. Being seen by hundreds of people constantly is tough, but the DJs face an even greater challenge than public scrutiny…
The DJs take turns sleeping for about 6 hours and aren’t allowed to eat! They only consume smoothies, coffee, and water during their week in the house, yet they still act lively and celebrate with their guests and their fans outside. Despite getting pretty sick of the smoothies, the DJs who have participated so far have no regrets.
The house features a mailbox, but it’s not just for fan mail: people can push in envelopes with a note requesting their favorite song and a cash donation to have it played. Lately, the event has become so popular that people start groups to raise funds to deposit in the mailbox months before the event starts.
The donated money always goes to the Red Cross but with a different focus every year. In previous years, Serious Request has spread awareness regarding sexual assault survivors, mothers dying in childbirth, separated families, and youths in war zones.
In 2016, the Serious Request slogan was “laat ze niet stikken,” which translates to “don’t let them suffocate.” The goal was to raise money for people in poor communities in Africa who suffer from lung infections like Bronchitis or Pneumonia. But this Serious event did not go as planned.
That year, only a day into the glass house week, a man stepped up to the mic outside the glass house with his son, offering a little over €100, or about $115. With the whole country listening, he relayed a story about his son the DJs couldn’t believe…
Tijn Kolsteren, the man’s son, was only 6 years old when he was diagnosed with terminal brain stem cancer earlier that year. When he learned about Serious Request, he felt it was his duty to help others survive. He began painting nails for a euro to collect money for the good cause, and his passion shone through the bright pink color on his fingers.
Tijn’s family was absolutely devastated by the news of his illness, but were 100 percent supportive of his idea to donate to the Serious Request event. His parents had donated to the cause before their son was even born, so along with Tijn’s brother, they helped him paint countless nails.
3FM DJs Frank Van Der Lende (left) and Domien Verschuuren (right) were smitten with Tijn and his passion to help others. Not only did they invite him into the glass house, they told everyone who would listen to spread the word about Tijn and the nail polish, and the Dutch nation definitely followed through.
A small hole was created in the glass wall, and as Tijn began practicing his art on people through the glass, hundreds of fans lined up in the square of Breda. Some waited for hours in the rain and the cold just to have their nails painted by the 6-year-old boy.
Dozens of celebrities who visited the glass house got their nails painted too. Although Tijn didn’t have the time to make everyone look fabulous, people painted their own nails and donated in his name. One of the lucky people who did get the Tijn special was Dutch prime-minister Mark Rutte (right), whose support of the project created even more awareness than before.
People began posting photos of their painted nails with the hashtag #HeelHollandLakt, meaning “all of Holland polishes.” There was not a single soul who hadn’t heard of Tijn, as he was even featured in the major newspapers. The media called him a real-life superhero.
Tijn’s acts may have been selfless, but he was rewarded nonetheless. When he returned to his hometown after a long few days of fame and nail polish, he was awarded a youth medal of honor by the mayor of his county. After that, Tijn certainly needed some rest, because the reality remained: he was seriously ill.
The Dutch pop-musician Miss Montreal wrote a song about Tijn, about what it is to be young and brave, to be sick but continue to fight and to stand up for others. When she performed the song for him, there was not a dry eye in the glass house — nor in the entire country.
On Christmas Eve, the DJs finally came out of their cage. The whole city was flooded by citizens ready to enjoy some concerts, celebrate the holiday, and witness the final count of all the money raised. The question on everyone’s mind that night was: with all the awareness spread by Tijn, what would the outcome be this year?
Tijn joined his new DJ friends on stage and together they held up the sign revealing the sum of every donation made to Serious Request that year. Thanks to every single person who gave a few euros, the event had collected over €8.5 million! That’s a whopping $10 million, in a country consisting of only 17 million people.
So what happened after the glass house broke down and the DJs went home to their families? The Netherlands’ most famous comedian Youp Van ‘T Heck and actress Wendy Van Dijk continued Tijn’s legacy, creating a website called LAK (polish), where one can buy a bottle of nail polish for €10 for a different good cause.
Every cent made with LAK was donated directly to the Semmy foundation, named for a young boy who was taken from the Earth too soon. The foundation funds brain cancer research and organizes fun events for people diagnosed with the disease. It was time to give back to people like Tijn.
On July 7, 2017, tragedy struck. Tijn had passed away in his home, exactly one week before what would have been his 7th birthday. His parents were heartbroken, but they weren’t alone. The entire nation mourned Tijn, as he was buried on his birthday, with nail polish on his fingers.
Tijn’s passing brought back the memories from last Christmas, and of what a difference such a young boy had made. Serious Request made an international impact, with other countries creating their own version of the glass house, and paying their respects to Tijn. One of the people who had great respect for the young boy was no one other than Pope Francis, who had given Tijn his blessing shortly before his death.
The following December, the Kolsteren family honored him in the best way possible. When that year’s glass house arrived, the family set up a glass nail salon in Breda, where Tijn had stolen every Dutch heart the previous year. Their goal was to raise €77,777 to honor the date of Tijn’s passing.Joyce Van Belkom/Pics4Profs
In July of 2018, the remaining Kolsteren family members were invited to the Red Cross office in The Hague, the second largest Dutch city, home to the Dutch government and the U.N.’s International Court of Justice. When they arrived, a memorial in Tijn’s name was revealed. As the family looked at the nail-polish-lined walls, they knew their son would never be forgotten.
Tijn’s legacy touched millions of hearts and helped save thousands of people. He will certainly continue to be honored in future versions of Serious Request, with a song in his name that will be played every year.