Emory Report
October 3, 2005
Volume 58, Number 6


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October 3 , 2005
Carter Town Hall addresses global poverty

By katherine baust Lukens

Former President Jimmy Carter addressed Emory freshmen at his 23rd annual Town Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 21. The evening’s tone ranged from lighthearted to somber, evoking moments of laughter and conjuring up disturbing imagery of poverty and despair.

“The annual Carter Town Hall has become a fixture for the Emory community, to come and ask any question of the former president,” Student Government Association President Amrit Dhir told the crowd gathered in the P.E. Center. “As President Carter never turns down a question, he has admitted he faces this town hall with some trepidation.”

Emory President Jim Wagner took the podium next and promised to keep his introduction as short as possible in order to get “the man” onstage. “President Carter cares deeply enough about what is right to never hide his criticism,” said Wagner.

Carter opened by telling the crowd that everyone at Emory is a part of The Carter Center, which is currently working in 65 nations (mostly in Africa). “As you have heard, I come with some trepidation, and I look forward to answering your questions … I think,” he joked.

The hour-long question and answer session began on a light note. The first question asked the amount of laps he could swim at once, to which he replied, “I usually swim one at a time.” The second was if he missed peanut farming, to which he replied no, explaining, “I still farm peanuts today, and I hope that everyone at Emory eats lots of them.”

On a more serious note, Carter was asked what the greatest threat facing our country is and if the administration is addressing it. “The answer to the second part is no,’” Carter replied emphatically, which invoked loud applause from the audience. He continued in his critique. “The first part is the growing chasm between the rich and the poor. In Mali, 90 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day and 70 percent live on less that $1 per day. The despair in which they live is very profound.”

Carter then asked the crowd to imagine life on less than $2 per day. “At the recent G8 Conference, the United States was the only nation that refused to increase the current government expenditure for foreign aid of $0.16 per $100 of our national income to $0.40 per $100. I think if you asked any American if they would be willing to make that increase, they would say ‘yes,’ but the administration says ‘no.’”

Another question was asked regarding his own aspirations for the future of The Carter Center. “This question has been weighing increasingly on my mind since passing age 80,” Carter said. “My hope is that The Carter Center will survive and its influence increase, and I set goals to ensure that.” Among those goals were forming an alliance between the center and Emory, building a $250 million endowment, and creating an alignment between the center and democratically elected world leaders.

Carter was asked to share an unforgettable memory with the audience. He shared two. He began with a first-hand account of witnessing Guinea worm disease, which is ingested as larvae in contaminated water. The worm grows in the human abdomen up to three feet in length before painfully emerging from the body, a process that can take up to two months. “When I was in Ghana, I saw a beautiful young woman who I thought was holding a baby in her arms,” Carter recalled. “But she was actually holding her right breast with a Guinea worm emerging from it. I found out later she had 11 other worms coming out of her body at the same time.” He added that Guinea worm no longer exists there and never will because of the global eradication effort led by The Carter Center.

The second memory Carter recalled took place during a visit to Ethiopia to fight trachoma, an infectious disease of the eye that can result in blindness. Carter explained that latrine building is a crucial tool in preventing the debilitating disease by increasing sanitation and hygiene standards. He recalled meeting a little girl who excitedly demonstrated using the “potty,” a latrine built for her and her brother. “She squatted down and spread her skirt out very carefully to relieve herself,” he said. “I took a picture of her, and I asked [Rosalynn] if we could use it for our Christmas cards this year,” Carter said as he smiled.

The mood turned somber again when Carter was asked of his opinion of the Iraq war. He responded, “The Iraq war was unnecessary, unjust, a horrible mistake.” Pausing for a moment and giving the crowd an exasperated look, he then said, “other than that, it’s OK.” He elaborated further by saying that a policy was developed at the highest level to invade Iraq long before 9/11 and speculates that leaders in Washington have no inclination on leaving until the U.S. has military bases in Iraq and control of oil.

Other topics touched on were his reaction to the hostage crisis during his presidency, Harvard’s recent reversal of its decision to allow military recruiters on its campus because of the federal government’s threat to withhold funds, and his relationship with Habitat for Humanity since the management change.

Carter answered one of the final questions, reflecting on his personal and public life. “I wish to be a good grandfather to my 11 grandchildren and to break down the barrier between rich and poor countries,” when asked what his final accomplishment would be if able to choose.

“My hope is that in my lifetime people in the world will look on my nation as a nation of peace, and not preemptive war; that my country would be a champion of human rights and protect our civil rights, and that we wouldn’t be condemned by what we have done in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo; and that my country wouldn’t be looked upon as ‘stingy.’”