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Shortly after our interview, the Carters hosted a Town Hall Meeting to field questions from supporters participating in the weekend. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter struggle with the disproportionate attention paid to their work for Habitat for Humanity -- a single week's work each year -- as compared with the awareness of their year-round efforts on lower profile projects in the forgotten communities of the world.

The Carter Center was originally started as an effort to continue the kind of work President Carter initiated at Camp David with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat.

"We deal with peace," said Carter of the 110 current conflicts worldwide the Center is monitoring. "We analyze every conflict in the world, the causes of it, the extent of it, the leaders of it, what is being done to end a war, to prevent a war, and we try to deal with those as effectively as we can. We try to end conflicts or prevent conflicts."

The Carter Center monitors elections in troubled countries, and over half their annual budget is spent on improving health worldwide, working toward "the alleviation of suffering among people who are defenseless, inarticulate, isolated and quite often ignored," in Carter's words.

"The greatest challenge that the world faces in the new millennium is a growing chasm between the rich people in the world and the poor people on Earth," said the former president. "That creates deprivation of the basic elements of life. The environment deteriorates, there's a jealousy that exists between the poorest people and the richest people, those who are deprived take to violence too many times in the world."

Among The Carter Center's most notable successes in health care has been the near-complete eradication of Guinea worm, an infection that comes from drinking contaminated water. The Guinea worm larvae mature inside the human body and grow up to 3 feet long, emerging after a year through a painful blister.

When The Carter Center started fighting the disease, there were 3.5 million people suffering from Guinea worm. The number is down to about 60,000 people, a better than 98 percent reduction rate. If their efforts are successful, it will be only the second disease in human history to be eradicated, following smallpox in 1977.

-- Owen Perkins

For more information about the Carter Center's programs, log onto cartercenter.org.

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