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At precisely 8 am on October 30, former American President Jimmy Carter lifts a slice of cement with a trowel and places it on a concrete brick to start building a wall for House No 73. With that, he inaugurates the Jimmy Carter Work Project (JCWP) for Habitat forHumanity's project of building 100 homes in Pathan, near Lonavla.Carter, wearing jeans and a cap, and 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 right behind him, with a persistent smile on her face, and in a bright orange saree, is house owner Sadhiya Aziz Sheikh, 30, of Varsuli Village. Her husband is a driver in a car rental company and they have two children. Her in-laws live with them. She helps Carter in providing the cement in a tray and tries to be helpful.
During the lunch break, she says, "We were introduced to Carter Saab before the work began. I wanted to take his autograph but because he is so busy I will do it later."
All around volunteers, both foreigners and Indians, are busy slapping cement on bricks. One of them is government servant Priscilla Deegan, 25, of Ireland. "I just want to make a difference in the lives of these people. That is why I have come."
The burly Dave Kirk of the US spends six months of the year working on projects like this. "It is a great feeling to see the joy of the families when they receive the house keys on the last day." Cobb says he gets no money to do this volunteer work but has no regrets. "I just go back home and work harder to pay the bills."
Sumit Mehdiratta, of Whirpool company, says, "We Indians should get out of middle class bubble and help other people."
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." Dolly Thakore says Bedi encouraged her to participate in her first project. When a crowd of people chase former Australian cricketer Steve Waugh,an American says, "Who's he?"
"He is a cricketer," says somebody.
"Oh," he says, looking completely puzzled.
Brad Pitt suddenly appears suddenly from Pune and there is a frenzy, but he studiously avoids looking at the grizzled bears of the media.And goes about quietly helping in his own way. In the end, Carter evokes the admiration of all present. Apart from ahalf an hour interval when he interacts with the media, he works non-stop from 8 am to 12.30 pm. Bear in mind he is 82. People half his age are panting in the noon-day sun.
The 100 houses will be completed on Friday, November 3.