Pitt, with former President Jimmy Carter, gets his hands dirty for Habitat for Humanity

By Amrit Dhillon and Stephen M. Silverman
Updated October 31, 2006 08:00 AM
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On Monday Brad Pitt visited the Western India town of Lonavala, where he helped former President Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalynn and other Habitat for Humanity volunteers build two new houses.

The actor, who has been in Pune, India, with Angelina Jolie filming A Mighty Heart, arrived around noon – when the press corps was at lunch – and for a few moments went unnoticed among the 1,500 foreign volunteers.

But then a Times of India photographer happened to recognize Pitt and the whole press pack came running.

During his visit, which lasted until sundown, Pitt chatted with the Carters and then helped lay cement blocks. “He was perfectly relaxed and didn’t mind being photographed at all,” local reporter Pranjal Bhujan told PEOPLE. “He did everything – he mixed the cement, carried it to the house, laid it on the bricks and then placed the bricks on the wall that was being built.”

Pitt also spoke with Aziz and Sadhiya Sheikh, who will own one of the houses he worked on – although Sadhiya Sheikh later told reporters she had never heard of the actor.

But her husband, a taxi driver, had, because of all the recent coverage of Pitt and Jolie’s activities in Pune. “I know he is the famous American actor,” Aziz said. “I was excited and honored that he and Mr. Carter were helping to build my house.”

Pitt and Carter also helped out on a house for rickshaw driver Dev Aggarwal and his wife, who is seven months pregnant. “I didn’t know who Pitt was, but to have a famous man visiting your house is an auspicious sign with a baby on the way. It means good things are going to come,” Aggarwal told reporters.

After Pitt had gone, the Indian volunteers working on the site came rushing to the two couples to congratulate them on having been ‘blessed’ by a visit from Pitt and Carter.

“Brad just believes in doing his part to draw attention to the fact that so many people around the world lack adequate and affordable housing,” the actor’s philanthropic advisor, Trevor Neilson, told PEOPLE. “He has great respect for the work that President Carter has done leading Habitat for Humanity and is glad to be able to help draw attention to their important work in India and around the world.”

In total, 100 houses are being built in association with Habitat for Humanity for low-income families in the Lonavala area as part of the 23rd annual Jimmy Carter Work Project.

Also helping the Carters – who every year since 1984 have spent a week building homes for Habitat – were former Miss World and Miss India Diana Hayden and Australian cricket player Steve Waugh.

“We’ve realized that people across the globe have the same basic needs, dreams and aspirations,” Carter, 82, said at a press conference at the work site. “Habitat’s program depends on finding families who cannot otherwise afford housing.”

Last month, Pitt and Jolie formed the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which will give $2 million to Global Action for Children and Doctors Without Borders to help families affected by HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty.