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Q&A: Habitat, Mental Health, NGOs, World Conflicts

By Jimmy Carter

Q: What is Habitat for Humanity, and how are you involved?
Habitat for Humanity brings affordable housing to thousands of poor families around the world.

Work projects throughout the United States and 41 other countries recruit armies of volunteers to help build houses for those who never imagined they could afford their own homes.

No government funds are used and the homes are not handouts. The homeowners work for hundreds of hours alongside volunteers to build or restore their own houses, which they then pay for through interest-free loans.

After they assist in building their own homes, the residents use their new skills to help others realize their dreams of home ownership.

Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat, envisioned that people would gain not only new homes but also greater self-esteem from their labors.

As Habitat volunteers since 1984, Rosalynn and I have worked from start to finish in constructing 15 houses. We have seen the prescription work for hundreds of other homeowners whom we know personally.

In Habitat's 19 years as an organization, some 35,000 Habitat homeowners have had the same experience.

Although we volunteer only one full week and a few days each year and hold no official positions in the group, Habitat occupies a very special place in our hearts.

For more information, write to Habitat for Humanity, 121 Habitat St., Americus, Ga. 31709-3498.

Q: What does the Mental Health Program of the Carter Center do?
When Rosalynn and I left the White House, we wanted to continue working on issues that had been important to us throughout our careers in public service.

For almost two decades, Rosalynn's biggest cause has been trying to erase the stigma against people with mental illness and help make life better for them.

Through her Mental Health Program at the Carter Center she works with experts and advocates in the field to create better public policies to serve those who suffer from emotional or mental illness.

The program works collaboratively with mental health organizations in the United States and through the World Federation for Mental Health to address concerns about mental health care for adolescents and the elderly, early intervention and prevention programs for children and their families, more favorable portrayal in the media of people with mental illness, government health care regulations and available funding for improving and expanding services, treatments and research.

Q: What is the definition and role of a non-governmental organization?
An NGO is a non-profit institution that works outside the aegis of a government department or agency. In the post-Cold War era, the role of NGOs in global activities such as peacemaking, human rights promotion and international development has been increasing.

Amnesty International, Catholic Relief Services and The Carter Center are examples of NGOs. They play a vital role in the world by addressing many issues that businesses and governments cannot. Most of them rely on the work of volunteers and donations from individuals and foundations.

Q: Regarding crisis management in strife-torn areas, are there any lasting solutions?
There are, indeed. The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, signed in 1979, has been honored meticulously by both sides. After 30 years of war, an agreement consummated in 1992 between the government of Ethiopia and Eritrean revolutionaries has resulted in the establishment of a new nation, and both neighbors remain at peace.

Sometimes a major war results in victory for one side, which is followed by peaceful years. Consider the stable democratic governments in Japan, Germany and Italy.

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