At 8 am on October 30, former American president Jimmy Carter lifted a slice of cement with a trowel and placed it on a concrete brick. This is the start of House No 73 — the site for the Jimmy Carter Work Project (JCWP).
A part of Habitat for Humanity — a non-profit housing organisation that builds simple, affordable homes for the needy — the project aims to construct 100 homes in Patan, near Lonavla.
Carter, accompanied by his wife Rosalynn and son Chip, is concentration personified as he goes about his work with a skill and confidence that comes from doing this for 23 years in several countries. And since he is no ordinary mason, a phalanx of photographers record his every move.
Standing behind him — with a persistent smile on her face, and in a bright orange saree — is house owner 30-year-old Sadhiya Aziz Sheikh of Varsuli village. Her husband is a driver in a car rental company and they have two children. Her in-laws also live with them. “We were introduced to Carter saab before the work began. I wanted to take his autograph,” she says.
Suddenly, one of the volunteers is being chased by a crowd. It’s former Australian cricketer Steve Waugh. An American asks: “Who’s he?” “He is a cricketer,” comes the reply from someone.
Brad Pitt too appears from Pune and the crowd is in a frenzy. But he avoids looking at the grizzled bears of the media and goes about quietly helping in his own way.
All around volunteers, foreigners and Indians, are busy slapping cement on bricks. Sumit Mehdiratta, of Whirpool company, says: “We Indians should get out of our middle class bubble and do our bit.”
Our Indian celebrities are also at hand. There is Pooja Bedi, in sunglasses and black dungarees, who says she want to build with her hands. “Habitat makes charity fun,” she says. “There is good food, good music and the ambience is great.”
In the end, Carter evokes the admiration of all present. Besides a half an hour interval when he interacts with the media, he works non-stop from 8 am to 12.30 pm. He is 82. People half his age are panting in the noon-day sun. The 100 houses will be completed on Friday, November 3.