Habitat just one of the ways Carters give back
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter takes a break from building Friday, July 14, 2017, in Winnipeg on last day of Habitat for Humanity project. TOM BRODBECK/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network
Habitat just one of the ways Carters keep giving back
Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s farm and agriculture supply business was in financial ruin when he left the White House in 1981. His business, a thriving enterprise before he won the presidency, was placed in a blind trust when he took office in 1977.
A stickler when it came to the ethical responsibilities of holding the highest office in the land, Carter wouldn’t even allow his trustee to give him a glance at the books during his four-year tenure.
They don’t make U.S. presidents like that anymore.
Unfortunately, Carter’s business was poorly managed in his absence. And coupled with three years of drought while he was negotiating peace treaties around the world and handing control of the Panama Canal to Panamanians, his companies were so mired in debt, the former Georgia governor and his wife Roslynn feared they might even lose their modest bungalow in Plains, Ga.
Thanks for your service, Mr. President, but welcome back to the civilian world.
Overcoming adversity has been the central theme of Jimmy Carter’s life, though. And at age 92, while he’s swinging a hammer and sawing boards in a Winnipeg neighbourhood, building houses for low-income families, that tenacity and compassion for others is as evident as ever.
“I get more out of it than I put into it,” Carter said Friday on his final day in Winnipeg, looking refreshed after a trip to the hospital Thursday due to dehydration. “We have the option of not doing it each year but we already have next year planned.”
Carter and his wife have been building houses with Habit for Humanity for 34 years, not only in the U.S. and Canada but all over the world. And the former president counts the program as one of his most satisfying forms of humanitarian work. That’s pretty impressive considering the work he and Roslynn do through the Carter Centre, which he founded shortly after leaving the White House. The organization has helped bring peace to countries all over the world, including mediating conflicts and overseeing elections, not to mention treating 34 million people a year for diseases in African and Latin American countries.
“If you want to put your moral or ethical values into real practical application, I think Habitat offers the easiest way to do that,” said Carter. “Because Habitat not only gives a family a decent home but it also promotes the sense of self-worth.”
Habitat chooses qualified people for the homes, which are purchased at zero percent interest. But they don’t just pick anybody. Suitable applicants have to be gainfully employed and must be able to make mortgage payments. They also have to contribute at least 500 hours of volunteer construction time.
“It’s not a hand-out, it’s a hand up,” said Carter. “We were very careful at Habitat not to give away anything.”
The former president, who is still under the watchful eye of the U.S. Secret Service everywhere he goes, says he sees the benefits the program brings to people at every project he works at.
“We see school children go up three or four grades in school just because they have a house,” he said. “And teenage boys who were formerly ashamed to bring their friends to the place where they used to live, a rental place that was inadequate, are now proud to bring their friends to their house.”
On a larger scale, though, the former president expresses his disappointment with what he says is a growing gap between the rich and the poor in the United States. He believes politics has been hijacked by big money and those in power are increasingly disconnected from the plight of the downtrodden.
“When I ran for president against Gerald Ford, the incumbent for the Republicans, he and I raised zero money to run against each other,” said Carter. “Now you can’t hope to get the nomination in the Democratic or Republican party without raising $200 million at least from donors.”
Still, Carter is hopeful.
“I have a feeling of optimism in the long term, which might be a century or more, that God’s will will prevail and that we’ll see peace on earth and harmony among people and basic human rights honoured,” he said.
In the meantime, Carter plans to continue to fight the good fight. The Carters did manage to hang on to their house in Plains back in the 80s, where they still live today. And they have no plans of slowing down.