The Foundation “Un Coup de Main d’Emmaüs” was launched in 2001, but the social work towards homeless people really started in 1997. Amongst the people involved, present since the beginning of the adventure, many are still involved in the association, as employees, members of the board or volunteers. This month, we are meeting Iustina, treasurer of the Foundation.
Hello Iustina, you know Emmaüs since the beginning… Can you tell us about it?
Emmaüs was born in the 2000s and has a really explicit name. The name “Un Coup de main d’Emmaüs” unites two french associations: “Un Coup de Main” (Pantin, Paris) and “Emmaüs Liberté” (Paris). These are two association that supported projects for young homeless people in Iasi in the 2000s and that helped materially, financially and sentimentally the creation of the foundation.
The first contact was in 1997, during a meeting with a group of people from France: Juan, Anne, Jacques, Olivier, Monique, Yves, who wanted to help the homeless. This is how I discovered with astonishment that, right next to my place, around 25-30 young people lived in shacks or under the stars. Teenagers that lived in the orphanage and, when turning 18, had to leave, without family, money, accomodation and job. At the same time, I met with Gelu, Gigi (who doesn’t work anymore for the Foundation) and Florin, active and enthusiast volunteers willing to help. A little bit later, Laurentiu joined us, along with several young Romanians and foreigners.
And how did it evolve?
We started with buying a house, near the centre of Iasi, with some bedrooms, but everything was in ruins. We could only host in one bedroom and nothing was working: neither the water nor the electricity or the gaz. The first companions (four or five in total), the volunteers, the people in charge: everybody helped for the reconstruction. The first shop was small, far from the centre. The monthly income was slightly more than the rent. We bought a house near the headquarters thanks to a French financing, that became our big shop. Then we bought 23 hectares of agricultural lands (the Belvedere) and a small country house (donation from Henri Boursicaud).
Since 2006, we also take advantage of another country house, 35 km from Iasi. The house was later given to us by the association Grégory&Didier (from Switzerland). A big thanks to them! As the activities diversified, more and more of young homeless people expressed the will to become companions. They wanted to learn how to become “men” and win back their dignity.
And 20 years later, how do you feel about it? Would you have believed it possible at the beginning?
From the start, I wanted to succeed. It wasn’t certain and it wasn’t easy at all. The hardest part was to work with the youngter who needed to learn everything. They needed to understand that working was their only way to succeed in life, that they needed to follow the rules but at the same time, we had to offer them the affection and love they were missing and they needed so much. To understand them.
What did touch you the most?
For me, the most touching moment was the encounter with the Abbé Pierre. It was a few days filled with emotions, wisdom, kindness and brotherhood. This moment marked me forever. The Abbé Pierre was a powerful “voice” for the ones in need.
What is the thing about which you feel proud?
I’m proud about many things, but mostly about the companions who succeeded in life. Those who built a family (we had a lot of weddings in Emmaüs), who have had children and have great care of them, who have proper jobs. It was not easy, neither for them nor for us but this is what I am the most proud about.
What was your part at the beginning?
From the start I was the treasurer of the Foundation, but everybody wa giving a hand where it was needed. I took part in the distribution of the food in the street with Carmen, Gelu and Gigi, in the cleaning and the organisation of the shop, sometimes in the selling, in the kitchen when needed. I participated to conferences and meetings with Emmaüs Europe and Emmaüs International, meetings with local and national associations, etc.
The activity as treasurer fills most of my time, but I’m involved in the realization of the newsletter and I keep in touch with former companions who are now independent.
How do you expect the future to be?
The Foundation has a permanent dynamic: on the economical, social and human level. We want to increase the number of companions welcomed and help as many homeless people as possible, by offering them a job or helping them finding one, by teaching them a craft. To manage to do it, we want to continue our food distribution program and achieve the “Belvedere” project, a group of social housing, with an educational organic farm and a shop.