Portrait of the month: Gelu, director and co-founder of the organization Emmaus Iasi (March 2022)

For this interview of the month, I am with Gelu Nichițel, director and co-founder of the Emmaus Iasi organization.

Sammy : Gelu, I’ll let you introduce yourself.

Gelu : I am Gelu Nichițel, I am 48 years old, I am married, I have two children and I have been in charge of Emmaus Iasi for 22 years.

Sammy : What was your background before creating the organization? 

Gelu : I went to France in Paris, after my studies. With French friends, we created an organization in Pantin (near Paris). Then, I came back to Romania because there were many children who needed help. In Iasi, we found a good team, with a colleague who supported me a lot, who believed in my dream. With this team, we then created the organization which is now 22 years old : ‘Un coup de main d’Emmaüs Iași” because the organization where I worked in Paris was named “Un coup de main”.

Sammy : Could you tell me how the association evolved?

Gelu : It was very difficult at the beginning, to have money or material assistance. We worked with our president Juan Rodriguez in Paris. He noted that there were homeless people in Paris that were begging. Then we started working with romanians, roma, etc…

After, I came back to Iasi with my friend Florin Sabie, he was young and he believed in his dream. He was not scared to renovate a ruined house and to start a social and associative life for the needy. For us, it was really hard. At the beginning, we found a group of girls who lived alone in Iasi city center. So we brought them to the house we were repairing, and this is how the community started.

Sammy : Could you now tell us about the belvedere, Popesti and the reason for their creation?

Gelu : The creation of the other places of Emmaus Iasi started from the idea of creating, to develop a local economy, not always depend on trucks and equipment coming from the outside. The second reason was therapy with companions. Most of them lived in orphanages. To give them self-confidence and value them in their work, we figured they had work in agriculture or else with animals. We had the opportunity to buy the three Emmaus places at low prices.

Popesti’s house “Gregory & Didier”, for example, was given by a Swiss family, who wanted to do the same social action as us, but did not succeed, and therefore, they trusted us to continue their project as long as the house does not become a business, but a social house.
I think these conditions have been met. They are great people, and we still seeing each other.

Sammy : And could you talk to me a little more about your role as national delegate of Romania?

Gelu : I am Emmaus national delegate of Romania. If someone wants to create an Emmaus in Romania, he has to go through me. Then, I advise and accompany him.

Sammy : Is there one or more moments that marked you during your career?

Gelu : I think there are a lot of moments. I always trust myself. And I always think that if I put something in my head, I am gonna make it, because I have a huge patience. Even if it may seem a bit crazy to work and develop in several directions, in Romania, there are people who need social assistance. Here, there is no social welfare.

For me, it stuck with me when people walk by homeless people without reacting.If it is a dog,
you pet it, but if it is a man, maybe we must accompany him because he is an alcoholic, because he is sick, etc… Today’s society is more self-interest than community interest.
I remember another memory, but negative. One day, a man came and we presented our action to him. At the end of the presentation, he asked me “what is your interest here ? Why don’t you do business ?” He did not see the point of me doing that.

Sammy : What do you think about the current events that are happening in Ukraine?

Gelu : I think now in Europe, there is a very mad dictator, who has reached a certain age and who wants to stay in history. And with his pride, he wants to bring together the great USSR as before. He started a war with everyone. We are scared of a person like him, because he has a huge power with the nuclear weapon. We do not need to destroy the Earth between us. Why ? What is the cause ? We don’t want this . I think he is very strong, he has the money, he has the power, he has everything. Sometimes, we become a little mad, mad with power, we want to control the world. I think that in Romania, we are afraid, we are afraid of something. It is something that we don’t know. We do not know if tomorrow they will come to our country to destroy us, but I hope it doesn’t go that far.

It is hard to see children, mothers, families who split up. Yesterday, they were in their homes with their families, their heat, their love and today they are at war. And I hope that we will host them in all countries because we are citizens of the world.

Sammy : Thank you for this interview. Do you want to add anything to conclude?

Gelu : Sammy, thank you for your presence here in Iasi, we had the opportunity to get to know each other and to work together. I hope this phase of your life spent with us in Romania will help you to see things clearly, differently. To get to know another culture, it is good to go to the country concerned.