Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter (right) and wife Rosalynn were working at the Habitat for Humanity build site in Winnipeg July 13. (Photo by James Buchok)
WINNIPEG — Even as one of the world’s most powerful people, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter regrets he could not reach those who may have most needed his help.
“I dealt with things like peace and human rights but I didn’t have a chance to get directly acquainted with people who were in need,” said Carter, who was in Winnipeg July 13 for the 34th Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Habitat for Humanity Work Project.
After leaving the White House, the Carters became involved with Habitat for Humanity, building affordable homes for low-income families. “Habitat gave me the best opportunity that I had as a human being to break down the barriers between people like myself, who had almost everything I ever wanted, and those who were in need of a decent home,” Carter said. The Carters have worked alongside nearly 100,000 volunteers in 14 countries to build, renovate and repair more than 4,000 homes.
The Work Project took place in cities across Canada from July 9 to 14 to build 150 homes for Canada’s 150th anniversary. At the Winnipeg site, in five days, 1,600 volunteers built 15 permanent single-family dwellings, plus five more ready-to-move structures. The homes will by occupied by the end of 2017 and early 2018.
Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford made clear that Habitat does not give homes away. People living in Habitat homes help build their own houses, and pay an affordable mortgage geared to their income. Habitat helps low-income working families break the cycle of poverty by allowing them to move out of social housing, freeing up space for those on waiting lists.
The Carters — Jimmy is 92 and Rosalynn 89 — came to Winnipeg in hard hats and boots, ready to work. Mrs. Carter started the day saying the future home owners are blessed by the many helping hands, “but the blessing is as much ours who work for you as it is yours.”
Jimmy Carter, a Baptist and a deacon, led a short devotional service but first invited all to Marantha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, where Carter teaches Bible classes. “We have about 30 members and hundreds of visitors who come to hear a politician teach the Bible, which is kind of a curiosity. You’re all welcome to come — not all on the same Sunday, but you’re all welcome.
“We have found out after 36 years with Habitat for Humanity that families that are in need are sometimes underestimated by those of us who have, you might say, everything in life. And we get to know those people and see how hard they work and how worthy they are and we come to realize that Habitat families were underestimated because, we think, ‘Why don’t they have a decent home if they worked as hard as I did?’ But Habitat families are just as hard-working as we are, they’re just as ambitious as I am, they have family values the same as mine. Habitat is a mechanism by which we can equalize the relationship between us.
“Habitat has expanded greatly my ability to put my faith into practice. So don’t forget that everything we have in life is given to us by God. We are given talents and ability to do anything we want to and God lets us make the decision about what kind of person I’m going to be, so that gives us a great responsibility but also a great opportunity, and building Habitat homes is an opportunity we have to put into practice whatever our moral and ethical values might be.”
According to Habitat for Humanity, one in seven households in Canada, including 735,000 children, “do not have a safe, decent and affordable place to call home.”