Volunteer Story – Day 3

Former Romanian president builds

"Habitat builds houses and builds consciences in equal parts. These projects rebuild the idea of human solidarity, an idea that communism attempted to destroy in my country." Photo by Steffan Hacker
Volunteer Story – Day 3 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Dr. Emil Constantinescu — Building houses, building consciences

Pascagoula, Mississippi
— Ask Dr. Emil Constantinescu why he is here in Pascagoula, Miss., and he will hesitate. Not because he doesn’t know what to say, but rather because he knows how very much he has to share.

The former president of Romania has been involved with Habitat in his home country since last year, when he participated in the Euro2007 Habitat Build. The build, which took place in Radauti, resulted in 27 houses built — one for each member state of the European Union — in only five days.

But why travel to Mississippi with a delegation of other Romanian volunteers for a week of volunteering? “I could simply answer by saying that there is a need here,” he said. “This is my faith, my belief, for a lifetime now, that when a major need arises, I have to be present.

“But there is much more to it.”

He has been, he continued, profoundly impacted by the philosophy of Habitat for Humanity, by the idea that the mission changes lives, as well as living conditions. “Habitat builds houses and builds consciences in equal parts,” he said. “These projects rebuild the idea of human solidarity, an idea that communism attempted to destroy in my country. Habitat builds the solidarity of those who help, but — even more — builds up a sense of dignity in the ones that are helped.”

Constantinescu, a geologist by profession who has taught mineralogy at Duke University in North Carolina, is quite comfortable swinging a hammer. His preferred on-site task, though, is the installation of windows, he said, because “the windows of a house are like the eyes of a man or woman. They are where the world sees you, and you see the world.” He spent Tuesday morning on this favorite of tasks, working side by side with his bodyguard Catalin Ghinescu. “Whenever I come back to Pascagoula,” he said, “I am able to say, ‘Catalin and myself have installed those windows.’”

He admitted that jealousy mixes with his nobler motivations. “I am very jealous of Adrian [Ciorna, president of Habitat for Humanity Romania],” he said. “I realized that the president of a foundation, achieving things that can be touchable in a short time, can be happier than the president of a country.

“A president of a country can be alive to see results” — and here he started a slow smile — “but he’s almost never still in office.”

As he prepared to return to the build site for his next assignment, Constantinescu recalled his first efforts on a Habitat build site. “I noticed next to me a young man who was working very carefully, but who at the same time was very carefully watching what I was doing.

“And I asked, ‘Who is this?’ He was the future Habitat homeowner. At the end of the build, he asked me to sign the space where I’d been working. And over my signature, they put stucco. Nobody will ever see it. But he will know that it is there.” — Shala Carlson