The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which our campers have been studying all week, includes 30 different articles which outline the rights that all humans should be afforded. Near the end of the document, the writers acknowledge that making these rights a reality takes more than just good intentions on the part of individuals. Article 28 states that one of the rights that humans have is the right to “a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” Declaring that food, for example, is a basic human right is meaningless if a country is so torn by war that no food can be grown or distributed to its citizens. Our right to participate in our country’s government becomes irrelevant in a country where the government has collapsed. Whether a community adequately supports the right to leisure or not becomes immaterial if residents are fearful of violence in the streets. Without Article 28’s “social and international order,” it’s not really worth talking about many of the UDHR’s other articles.
Here at Koinonia Farm, we are just a few miles away from the home of one of the greatest champions of the kind of social and international order that makes other rights possible. Jimmy Carter’s boyhood farm in Plains is now a National Historic Site, and our campers visited there today. They toured the farm, and were given the challenge to discern what roots in Carter’s childhood led him to become a leader in human rights advocacy.
The tour of the farm takes visitors back to the 1930s. Our campers learned that as a boy, Carter and his family enjoyed neither indoor plumbing nor electricity. The home was heated by fireplaces, which were fueled by wood that had to be chopped. Work on the farm was hard, workdays were long, and pay was low. But the richness of Jimmy’s childhood was also made clear: the values instilled by his mother, Miss Lillian; his deep and loving relationship with his father’s tenant farmers; the hours spent devouring books. Our campers got to try out some of the farm chores that Jimmy did as a boy. They fed chickens and gathered eggs, they scrubbed laundry on a washboard, and they ground corn for the chicken feed. Our guide, Ranger Patty Kuehn, made stories come alive and gave us a real taste of life on the Carter farm.
We also visited the school building in Plains where Jimmy attended classes. The building is now part of the National Historic Site, and displays Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Later, after some peanut butter ice cream and the drive back to Koinonia, campers considered Carter’s accomplishments as Georgia’s governor, as president, and through his continuing work with the Carter Center in Atlanta. We hypothesized that his stand for racial equality as governor stemmed from the friendships he enjoyed as a child with African American neighbors. The hard work of farm life doubtless prepared him for the demanding workload of the presidency. His mother’s acceptance of all people likely set the stage for his ability to cross cultural barriers in negotiating for peace. And we guessed that Miss Lillian’s work as a nurse instilled in him a passion for the right to healthcare, inspiring his work against guinea worm and other diseases.
Jimmy Carter’s many accomplishments certainly have helped create a social and international order in which human rights can more easily be realized. We could not have found a peacemaker who would be a better example as we discuss Article 28, and to find him so close to home is a double blessing. Thinking about his childhood influences and how they shaped him makes us ask ourselves how the influences on our young campers’ lives are shaping them. What lessons will they take with them into adulthood that will prepare them to be peacemakers? How can we strengthen those lessons for them? And what can these passionate and energetic youth teach us along the way?