'My first thought was that we had gone back in time 100 years'

This one-story duplex is an example of the work of Habitat for Humanity in rural Romania.
This one-story duplex is an example of the work of Habitat for Humanity in rural Romania.

Editor's Note: Pat Andrews of Rock Hill is a bookkeeper for Habitat for Humanity of York County. She traveled to Romania in July with her husband, Clint, and saw the work of Habitat there.

It was a train ride like no other -- not a joy ride, not an excursion, but a real trip with a real destination. The outside temperature was 100 degrees, and though the train was quite new, the air conditioning was not working.

We were traveling in Romania from Timisoara, one of the larger cities, to the small community of Beius to meet Adrian Ciorno, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Romania. But we could only get about halfway there by train to Salont, where a driver met us.

When the train slowed, we prepared to exit. But as the doors opened, there were no steps and no platform on which to plant our feet and our luggage, and we had to jump into the gravel between the tracks.

A driver met us to take us on to Beius by car. As I looked around, my first thought was that we had gone back in time 100 years. The one-hour car drive confirmed my thought as our driver maneuvered around flocks of sheep and cows being herded home before sunset.

We had spent time in the urban areas of Brasov and Bucharest. But rural areas like Beius are where Habitat for Humanity has made a significant difference in the lives of the working poor families.

My husband, Clint, and I began to dream about going to Romania earlier this year. Our daughter, Connie, was to be working in Romania and Ukraine for eight weeks.

Connie is founder and president of non-profit Music Camp International, which provides week-long day camps for children to help them develop self-esteem, dignity and hope.

I visited Kiev in 2006 for a concert the children performed on the Eve of Orthodox Christmas, but have had a great interest in Romania, having been involved in a small way in an orphanage in Oradea. I also followed with great interest the fall of communism and the communist leader Ceaucescu in 1989. I planned our trip to include two of Connie's concerts, in Brasov and Sibiu.

In recognition of Habitat's mission to eliminate substandard housing, all Habitat affiliates tithe 10 percent of their cash contribution to support Habitat home building in other countries.

Our local Habitat affiliate has designated Romania as the recipient of our tithe for the past three years -- and now I was going to be visiting.

When we arrived in Beius, we were met by Adrian and his wife for a late dinner. We were graciously welcomed, and received an extensive but fast tour to see the work of Habitat in Romania.

It was both exciting and rewarding to find this great organization halfway around the world with the same mission and principles as our York County affiliate.

It costs about $4,500 to build a Habitat house in Romania. Habitat Romania has built 120 homes in 10 years, many of them with the help of teams from the U.S. and other countries.

In the one Romanian home into which we were invited, the mother was making the noon meal and we were greeted very warmly. I was struck by how small the homes were, yet how they brought these families great satisfaction.

The families were so happy to be in theses homes, even though many of them were probably 800 square feet. They were thrilled.

We were taken out to a construction site where a global team of 16 volunteers from various U.S. cities was working on a one-week blitz build. That afternoon, since the temperature reached 105 degrees, they were given the afternoon off.

We toured the first Habitat neighborhood, where the homes are lovely -- a showcase for Habitat. After the first couple years, Habitat Romania began to build somewhat smaller homes, which are still very adequate, but more in keeping with the lower income families for whom they are committed to provide housing.

The affiliate purchased the top floor of an apartment block and renovated it to provide apartments for 26 families. They even built a one-story duplexes and quads. As in the United States, land for homes is becoming more costly in Romania, especially in larger towns and cities where people work.

A vast part of the Romanian population is considered the "working poor." An estimated 750,000 of the people will earn less than $130 per month in the next four years. Most are potential Habitat homeowners.

Habitat allows Romanian families to live their dream of home ownership with a monthly mortgage payment of around $50 per month.

I came away with an appreciation for how little it takes to bring contentment and security to the lives of these families, and I could see that Habitat is making a difference.