Carter Center Celebrates 25 Years of Promoting Peace, Fighting Disease

By Kane Farabaugh
New York
05 November 2007
Watch 25 Years of Carter Center report

One of the hallmarks of Jimmy Carter's American presidency was a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. It brought lasting peace between two former enemies. The experience encouraged Mr. Carter to spend most of his post-presidential years dedicated to promoting peace throughout the world. It is an effort that in 2002 earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. In an interview with VOA's Kane Farabaugh, President Carter spoke about his non-profit organization the Carter Center, and his new book that documents the center's success.

When Jimmy Carter left the White House in 1981, he returned to his home state of Georgia as a defeated politician, unable to win a second term in office.

Like most former presidents, he planned to focus his efforts on a presidential library. With his wife Rosalynn, they also formed an idea to create a place to resolve international disputes, modeled after the Camp David presidential retreat.

President Jimmy Carter says, "I envisioned it to be a tiny thing, where I would have an office and some nice buildings in Atlanta."

That "tiny thing" evolved into the Carter Center, now known throughout the world for promoting peace, monitoring elections and fighting disease.

President Carter talks about the last 25 years of the Atlanta, Georgia based Carter Center in his 24th published work, Beyond the White House. "We go where people don't want to go, or where the disease is relatively unknown, or where the trouble is too difficult, or failure is likely, and that has taken us into 71 nations now," he says.

In his interview with VOA, Mr. Carter said he feels able to do more good throughout the world without the constraints that come with a political office.

He has earned a reputation for fairness and honesty among world leaders, qualities that serve him best when called to monitor troubled elections. But he has also earned a reputation among a larger, and to him a more important group -- the world's poor.

The former president and first lady often travel to remote areas of the world, where they try to educate villagers and stop crippling illnesses. A large part of the Carter Center's current efforts, particularly in Africa, focus on providing treatment for diseases that many in the developed world know little about.

"That's about three-fourths of our total budget now, just dealing with diseases that are not known in the rich world," he says. "In fact most of our diseases are officially declared by the World Health Organization to be neglected diseases."

They include the eye disease trachoma, parasitic river blindness and guinea worm disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) says guinea worm disease could be eradicated within two years. If successful, it would be only the second time in history a disease has been wiped from the planet.

"It would be another demonstration that a disease could be completely eradicated from the face of the earth, once and for all," says President Carter. "So that is a big challenge for us, which we will meet," he adds.

Mr. Carter is 83 years old, but he still is in good health, travels widely and shows little sign of slowing down. He is widely praised for his work, but he is quick to give credit to the Carter Center's medical staff and volunteers. They number in the tens of thousands, and work in the poorest and most remote points on the African continent.