During the communist regime in Romania, the youth were one of the main targets of the political propaganda and the Romanian Communist Party created three main youth organizations at the national level with local branches everywhere in the country. The Homeland Hawks (Soimii Patriei) organization was for the children up to school age, The Pioneers (Pionierii) from the first grade to 14 years of age and finally The Communist Youth Association (Uniunea Tineretului Comunist) was the first step to become a member of the Romanian Communist Party.
In this way, from the moment that you were entering kindergarten, the Party was enrolling you in the system without asking if you wanted that or not.
On the good part, and excluding the political propaganda, all of these organizations were educating the Romanian youth about civic engagement and were giving them a feeling of empowerment.
After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, at the beginning of 1990, all these youth organizations disappeared from Romania and more than two decades later are still quasi non-existent.
In my work at Habitat for Humanity, I noticed that the Romanian youth was willing to help the community and was searching for ways to do this but there was no structured way to give them this opportunity. This was the beginning of HabiTeen, the youth organization of Habitat for Humanity Pitesti.
In 2006, I took the initiative to create the HabiTeen youth organization that had a boost in membership in 2007 with the help of Habitat for Humanity Pitesti staff and the volunteers from local high schools and university students. Youth interested in volunteering and helping their community realize how much fun volunteering can be and began participating in projects with Habitat for Humanity Pitesti.
The first project that the HabiTeen did was to help spread the word about Habitat for Humanity in downtown Pitesti on Women’s Day in March 2007. The youth handed out flowers to women, balloons to children and pins with the Habitat for Humanity logo to everyone. The day was very successful with people showing their support to our local organization. A few families even learned about what Habitat for Humanity does and applied to volunteer with us on the construction site to help other people in need of housing.
Encouraged by this overwhelming response, the HabiTeen youth got together and decided to clean a local park. In order to do this they organized themselves and convinced the city hall to donate gloves and garbage bags. After working an entire Saturday morning filling over 30 garbage bags with paper, plastic bottles and cans they were very happy when the local park goers congratulated and thanked them for their hard work. They took pride in telling people about HabiTeen and Habitat for Humanity work.
In the next months, the youth organization was growing fast and they organized many other activities from a fundraising campaign in the Pitesti city downtown to volunteer work at the Habitat for Humanity construction site in Oarja, Arges County.
After the HabiTeens got their momentum there was no stopping them from participating in a larger scale project. At Habitat for Humanity, we wanted to do a longer term project to help children of Habitat for Humanity partner families and children from a local orphanage. This project was to show the community the importance of having a positive mentor for disadvantaged children.
The HabiTeens all signed up to be mentors and were excited at the prospect of mentoring a child to show joy and encouragement to. They took the children out for ice cream, played in the park and helped them with their homework. They also took the children on group activities to the zoo and to a local park for a celebration dedicated to the children. This project was so successful and had such positive feedback that Habitat for Humanity Pitesti decided to continue with another Mentoring project on a larger scale and over a longer period of time.
You can read all about this project on the Mentoring page.