The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International | December 2001 / January 2002
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Youth Help Build the Future

Cluj-Napoca, a city of 350,000 in north-central Romania, is at once a city of both the old and the new. A soaring 15th-century cathedral dominates the city’s center, while blocks of concrete communist-era flats ring the perimeter. Elderly women covered in shawls watch clusters of denim-clad youth pass on the streets. Just outside the city, shiny BMWs swerve around horse-drawn carts of hay on bumpy roads.

This setting of old and new was an appropriate backdrop for Romania’s participation in the World Leaders Build held in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity’s Summer Youth Build in August. The SYB, a program sponsored by HFHI’s Campus Chapters and Youth Programs department, brings together youth of diverse backgrounds to build a Habitat house and deepen their understanding of teamwork.

While heads of state and government were participating in Habitat’s World Leaders Build throughout the world, the youth were developing their own leadership skills in Cluj.

“Some of these students are going to hold pretty important positions, and I think experiencing something like this in youth will inspire them when they’re older,” said Melinda Ruegg, an SYB adult supervisor. “They’ll think back to this experience and hopefully do something about the situation in their own countries or internationally.”

Laura Ferent, HFH Cluj volunteer coordinator, says she hopes the experiences of some of the Romanian youth who participated in the build, as well as presentations at universities and student organizations, will motivate other students to volunteer locally.

“The students are the future,” Ferent said. “They are enthusiastic, and they really want to help.”

Youth and adult supervisors at the build represented eight countries, including Germany, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. In the two weeks between their arrival and departure, the young people worked, ate and lived together, building friendships and nearly completing one unit of a five-unit row house.

“We all became very close,” Stefanie Sevcik, a youth from the United States, said. “The night before we left Budapest [to head home], most of us didn’t even go to sleep. It shows how close a group of people congregating for a common purpose can be in two weeks.”

The experience of building together was a powerful one for the partner homeowners as well as the youth. Mihai Pop and his wife, Viorica, lived with their children in a small, three-room shed scheduled for demolition. Their new Habitat house, with three bedrooms and a kitchen and living room area, seems spacious in comparison to their former home.

“It’s a big thing, what the volunteers through Habitat did for us,” he said. “What really touches us is the idea of helping your neighbor.” This idea of helping a neighbor is part of the message HFH Cluj hopes to spread in the community. At a mid-week press conference at the build site, county governor Vasile Soporan helped frame interior walls, introducing television, radio and newspaper representatives to Habitat’s love in action.This support from the media and local government is significant in a country in which memories of the mandatory “volunteerism” of the communist regime are fresh, and dishonest organizations have left many people holding empty promises.

“There are people who don’t believe in anything because of problems with other organizations,” Pop said. “Seeing these houses built in Cluj, the people will trust that Habitat builds with people in need without having ‘connections’ or bribes. This wasn’t thought possible in Romania before.”

The Pops gathered for a question-and-answer session with participants and translators during the build. When asked what they had learned from the build, Mihai’s answer was quick: “The feeling of being human.We were impressed with you—that you came here from thousands of miles away to work and not get paid.There is something like a human spirit.”


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