Helping the Peasant to Help Himself
By the end of 1936, which was an unusually bad year, blood parasites had been brought down to twenty-five per cent, the spleen index to twenty-four per cent, and working days lost, as the result of malaria, to the low figure of five hundred and twenty-six days. Two years later blood parasites had been reduced to seven per cent, the spleen index to twenty-three per cent, and working days lost to the all-time-low of two hundred and eighty-eight days for the entire village. Furthermore, the whole village population combined was now spending annually only about $25 for quinine.
By this time also other developments had taken place almost as important as the reduction of malaria itself. The rather large amount of local cooperation as well as the results secured had attracted the attention of Macedonian health officials and the work finally had been taken over as a government project; it was used, in fact, as a training center in malaria control. Koskinides, now an agent of the Ministry of Health, but assigned full time to Near East Foundation, was still directing the work.
During the six-year period reviewed in part, Makriyalos was not our only major project in sanitation nor even the most important for that matter. It is true that the summers were generally given over to operations in Makriyalos, particularly during the first two or three years of that project. The fall and winter seasons, however, could be devoted to other important jobs and with increasing experience and additional assistance even Makriyalos, did not require all of Koskinides' warm weather time. And there were many other things to be done.
Serious as malaria might be, it became increasingly evident that equally important to health were such simple fundamentals as clean drinking water, adequate supplies of good water for general purposes, garbage disposal, school and home latrines. And so Koskinides devoted more and more of this time to renovating old fountains, locating new water supplies for villages, protecting springs and streams from serious contamination, removing age-old piles of manure and rubbish from the center of inhabited towns, staging periodic clean-up days, and continuing to dot the countryside with school and home latrines as if these were the greatest architectural achievements of modern Greece.
In the case of every piece of work undertaken, the expense involved was borne chiefly by the family or community concerned. From his own meager budget, Koskinides drew only for the cost of supervision and sometimes a little for pump-priming purposes. With the active cooperation of agricultural leaders, workers of the home welfare department, club members, and local school teachers, Koskinides managed to keep constantly under way a wide variety of sanitation improvements. Among these diversified activities, he always had at least one sizeable job which he classified as a major project. This usually was a cooperative venture somewhat more ambitious than the average, and one requiring considerable time to complete. Sometimes one of these undertakings would involve two or three years of more or less continuous effort. The villagers were plodding, their resources were limited, and only as they could provide essential materials and contribute the necessary labor would Koskinides proceed. And so progress frequently was painfully slow.
Typical of one of these so-called major undertakings was the project at Rizo. In Rizo the water supply needed attention. All of the water for one large section of the community came from an ancient, broken-down fountain that stood in the midst of a swamp almost in the heart of the village. Peasant women with heavy buckets slung from their shoulders reached the spot by walking precariously along a line of big stepping stones that led through the low wet area. The crumbling walls still served one purpose of a sort, since they surrounded a reservoir-like depression from which water could more easily be dipped. The flow, of course, was both in and out, surface water as well as underground, depending upon the level outside. It was obviously a serious and ever-present danger to the health of the whole community.
Rizo was a small settlement of less than two hundred families. Located only a few miles from the ancient Macedonian capital of Edessa and not far from Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great, the present day village was known to occupy the site of an ancient town of considerable size. Apparently the public fountain was a relic of those early days. The kind of stone used and the general style of the structure showed that it actually was built in the days of Philip and Alexander.
The pipe line which connected this fountain with some distant source of supply had long since become broken. A little water still trickled through to this place, but most of it was lost on the way. This no doubt was the origin of the swamp which now covered the area. Of course mosquitoes bred here with little restraint as was clearly evident from the high incidence of malaria throughout the village. In rainy spells this low lying spot became a lake which overflowed into the surrounding homes. Just below were several fields which year after year became flooded out until plantings were no longer attempted by the peasants.
With enthusiastic promises of volunteer labor and generous offers of materials from individual families and the community as a whole, Koskinides tackled this challenging job. As a matter of fact, this was but another of those numerous improvements that the man found time to inaugurate during his first year of organized effort. It was not until late fall, however, following the malaria campaign in Makriyalos, that he was able to devote much effort to this venture. Late in May of the following year the task was completed.
It was necessary first of all to drain the swamp that surrounded the fountain. One of the springs which undoubtedly supplied water in ancient times was discovered and connected with a new pipe line. Any surface water that was not in this way brought under control was drained off through a series of underground laterals. This accomplished, a new concrete reservoir was constructed which permitted of no surface seepage. The fountain itself was entirely rebuilt, special care being taken to preserve its ancient design. In cleaning out the depression, which for so many years had served as a make-shift reservoir, all kinds of household and personal articles were brought to light. Among these were tin and iron cooking utensils, water containers and parts of soldier's uniforms dating back through the World War, the Balkan Wars, and into the days of the Turkish Occupation.
In reconstructing the fountain, special care was taken to provide for the convenience of the women who came there to fill their water containers. Moreover a trough was provided where oxen and buffalo might easily drink. A place was even arranged where the women could do their open-air washing. With the fountain entirely rebuilt and the area round about properly drained, the villagers turned out en masse and with hundreds of carts they filled in the low area with tons of gravel and soil. Somewhat later, this area was transformed into a public square with trees and flowers and shrubs. A deep channel was dug to a stream some distance away and thus was provided a suitable run-off for the water from the fountain. Not only were near by homes protected from periodic flooding, but the fields below were no longer subject to washing. As a result of this latter achievement, between twelve and fourteen acres of fertile soil were returned to these land-hungry people.
On the twenty-first day of May, 1934 the new water supply was dedicated in the presence of the whole population. The priest blessed the spot, the Mayor in a flowery speech expressed the thanks of his people and the district governor emphasized his admiration of an improvement that was entirely the result of cooperative effort. Officials and special guests then drank a toast of the water of the new fountain and forthwith repaired to the home of the priest to climax the occasion with a Macedonian meal of black bread, ripe olives, and roast lamb.
Out of the crowd that surrounded the fountain during the Rizo dedication three men emerged and came forward to the speakers platform at the close of the ceremony. They explained that they represented the near by community of Petria and that they had been watching our efforts in Rizo. They stated that they too had a serious problem of water in their village. Would we come over to help them?
As Petria was one of the villages within our demonstration area, Koskinides promised to investigate their problem. Not long after a study was made. Soon a practical plan was evolved and the work undertaken. Just three years later the village of Petria was able to enjoy for the first time in its history an adequate supply of pure water. The struggle that took place within that three-year period was an epic that is worth telling here.
When Koskinides investigated the Petria situation he discovered conditions that were hard to believe. A village of nearly eight hundred refugees was depending upon a water supply which had been originally constructed to serve three Turkish Beys (landlords) with their several tenant families of native Greeks. The one source of water, which, no doubt, was sufficient for the original small group living in this place, had become a mere trickle of water issuing from an old, dilapidated fountain; and this for a population that had undergone tremendous increase. This fountain was fed by a reservoir entirely open to contamination and with dry stone walls permitting a good share of the water to seep away, especially during the summer. Furthermore, the water from this reservoir was conveyed the three hundred feet to the fountain by clay pipes which were in several places cracked or broken with further loss of water and added danger of contamination.
A thorough survey of the whole situation brought out the fact that the question of water was not the only serious problem of Petria. Certain problems would need to be solved in order to get at the question of water supply. Certain other problems would be automatically solved when an adequate supply of water was provided. And there were still other items quite independent of the water question which needed immediate attention.
One low section on the western side of the village was frequently flooded during the winter season with appalling results on the fields and homes of that area. The trail to the village railroad station went through this depressed area and was frequently impossible to negotiate in the winter season. Consequently pedestrians and carts had to reach this near by point by a wide detour which not only consumed time, but resulted in serious damage to the fields that were necessarily traversed. To the north of the village was an area of several acres which was flooded out every winter with serious damage to any crops that happened to be planted. To the south of the village and about one-half mile away was an extensive swampy area covering five or six acres, and apparently fed from a muddy, marshy pool in the middle of a field. In this area mosquitoes were breeding in large numbers, fields were cut up by the irregular swamp, and there was of course considerable loss of land.
Koskinides concluded that he could materially increase the water supply of the one existing fountain. Furthermore, he became convinced that the marshy area to the south of the village was caused by an underground spring and that this might be exploited for the purpose of a more adequate supply of water. Mr. D. E. Wright, Sanitation Engineer of the Rockefeller Foundation, who was always on hand to assist us in every difficult problem, visited the place and confirmed this conviction. It was equally evident that with plenty of hard labor, which could be supplied by the villagers, and certain important materials which should be forthcoming from the area, the other problems listed could also be solved.
A program of work was carefully drawn up and systematically executed. The old reservoir was reconstructed to prevent both seepage and contamination from the outside and the flow of water thereby increased over six times. This accomplished, a new fountain was built. Instead of a small trickle from this fountain there now issued forth two full-flowing streams from two spouts.
In talking about his difficulties afterwards Koskinides stated that this was his first mistake. He reconstructed the fountain early in the program, whereas he should have left it until the last. The supply of water thus secured was so vastly superior in quantity and quality to what it had been before, that some of the villagers were quite content to sit back and consider the job entirely done.
But the supply was not nearly adequate for the village as a whole. The pool in the center of the big marsh was pumped out, a reservoir was sunk by a rather difficult piece of engineering, a half-mile line of pipe was laid, and three new fountains on the other side of the village were opened. These new fountains had a daily flow of thirty thousand okes of water, which is the equivalent of about ten thousand, five hundred gallons.
In providing an adequate supply of water the other problems, mentioned in an earlier part of this report, were also solved. The western area of the village was drained by the construction of a long, deep ditch leading out to a stream about one-quarter of a mile from the village. Not only did this result in correcting the flood situation of the village, but fields adjacent to this long ditch were drained and were no longer inundated during certain periods of the year. Advantage was taken of this condition to construct a crude dam or gate by which the water could be raised and used for irrigation purposes. Several culverts were constructed on the route to the railway stop, and a new road graded up, making it possible to get to the station at all seasons of the year. In utilizing the spring that was formerly feeding the marshy area to the south of the village, an important by-product was that this water was now brought under control, the pool disappeared, and the swamp completely dried up. This aided in the improvement of the malarial situation and new fields were added to the limited land area of this community. These results were sufficient to have made anyone proud of his handiwork.
The local contributions that went into this community project would make a long list. In addition to the many hours and days and weeks of miscellaneous labor contributed on a purely volunteer basis and concerning which no accurate accounting could be kept, all of the tax labor which frequently goes unused, or is diverted sometimes into unproductive activities, was applied to this special project. This labor amounted to 2,241 days of work during the three-year period. In addition to this ox-carts which their drivers were contributed to the extent of 299 days of work. Out of the annual budgets of this little community 20,206 drachmas were appropriated for this project during the three-year period. This would amount in dollars to around $200. Another 1,000 drachmas, or about $10, was contributed in the form of sand and gravel produced locally. If we should value labor at the current price of 50 drachmas per day and the ox-carts with drivers at the usual price of 100 drachmas per day, we would have a total cash investment in this project on the part of the village of drachmas 163,156. This is equivalent to $1,485, or about $500 per year for the period of work. Officials at the district headquarters of Edessa became impressed with the enthusiasm shown by the inhabitants of Petria and appropriated 15,000 drachmas for the purchase of the necessary pipes. This amount was later raised to 20,000 drachmas and finally increased to 30,000, or slightly less than $300.
The Petria project got under way in December, 1934. It was finally completed in December, 1937. The several difficult features already listed were not the only reasons for the rather long period that was devoted to this comparatively small project. There were additional causes. Work could only be undertaken in the late fall and water, when Mr. Koskinides was not occupied in important malarial work, and the villagers were not too busy with their regular farm work. But when the men were free the weather was frequently bad.
An accurate and descriptive summary of all of the difficulties encountered would be hard to provide. Two devastating floods ravaged the village, delayed operations, and spoiled some of the work. The revolution of March, 1935 interrupted operations here as in other parts of Macedonia. An incorrect engineering plan drawn up by a government surveyor who was sent in to help necessitated doing a large part of certain work a second time. Just as an important pipe line was nearing completion in the spring of 1937 a thoughtless volunteer worker included a few stones in his shovelful of dirt and broke the line. The summer season was coming on and so the completion of the project had to be abandoned for the time being. In the fall when the work was resumed other sections of the pipe were found broken. Finally, just as the long line of difficult piping was again completed and the whole project was considered practically finished several young vandals turned the water into the newly laid line forcing out all of the joints before the cement had properly set. The police found the culprits who proved to be young shepherd boys not really aware of what they were doing. But the pipe line had to come up again and the discouraged village once more whipped into line to provide additional labor.
Once in the early stages of the work our executive secretary, Barclay Acheson, came through Macedonia and visited this project. Koskinides had just completed the reservoir which was to utilize the water from the swamp to the south of the village. Dr. Acheson swore by all that was holy that the reservoir was lower than the village, that water could not possibly run up hill and ended by making his customary wager of a new hat that the plan would not work. Poor Koskinides was thrown into a state of virtual fever for fear this observation might be true. He had the entire route of the line resurveyed. But the new survey proved again what the eye could not detect, that there was sufficient grade, and the freely flowing water of later years provided the final confirmation. When peace comes again and Greece is once more open to the ministrations of her friends, one of the first gestures of friendship will be a new hat from Dr. Barclay Acheson, now one of the editors of Readers’ Digest, to Apostolis Koskinides, sanitation engineer, we hope, for the new era of reconstruction in Greece.
Only a person possessed of an unlimited supply of patience, with unusual qualities of leadership, could have consummated such a task. The Petria venture came exceedingly close to a serious departure from our sanitation policy which aimed to promote only those elemental improvements which could be achieved with the labor and resources of a small community, and to refrain from all projects of a highly technical nature. Many times Mr. Koskinides almost regretted that he had ever agreed to undertake such a project. But when the job was finally completed, he decided that it was worth many times over all of the effort and discouragements and headaches that were involved. For Petria had water; pure, abundant and within easy reach of every home; it had additional land, and it had other much needed improvements as well. And these good things had been brought forth out of the hard work and the limited resources of these people themselves.
One other major project deserves special mention in this brief review. In contrast to several of the other sanitation undertakings, this venture had to do with an overabundance of water. When the Refugee Settlement Commission first tried to solve the problem of water for the new settlers, it was discovered that in the wide plain below the ancient village of Boerrea, artesian wells offered a practical solution. As a consequence this part of the country was soon dotted with hundreds of artesian wells. This was in 1923.
From that day to the time of this story the flow never ceased, day after day, year after year. As a consequence, pools, ditches by the roadside, backyards, and low-lying areas were never without stagnant water. Water buffaloes and mosquitoes discovered a new-found paradise. In some of the villages of this area, doctors reported malaria as high as one hundred per cent. Foundation workers stationed in this area, and we had several, were continually exposed to infection. Here was a problem in sanitation that cried for special attention. And yet it seemed at first glance that little could be done. Certainly we could not seriously interfere with an element as valuable in that part of the world as pure water.
Somewhere Koskinides had heard that there was one possibility of bringing under control these ever-flowing wells. He consulted his Rockefeller advisors in Athens. They agreed that there was a method which offered a possibility, but cautioned that under no circumstances must the flowing artesian water be lost. To the Greek peasant this would be like losing so much gold.
For his experiment Koskinides used the artesian well that was in the front yard of our home demonstration center in the village of Stavros. The method was simple enough, at least on the surface. The pressure of the artesian flow was first measured. An extension was then added to the pipe that emerged from the surface of the ground, and this extension raised to a height sufficient to equalize the pressure. With this extra height the water could rise and fall inside the pipe with nothing to hinder. Koskinides was warned that to restrict suddenly the flow of water might cause it to seek an outlet in some weak stratum of rock below the surface of the ground. If this should happen, the well might be lost.
Once the artesian well had been brought under control with an open pipe of sufficient height, to complete the job it was only necessary to add a sizeable faucet that would be opened and closed. Thus water could be drawn at will. The experiment in the village of Stavros cost the small sum of $35. With a few minor adjustments, particularly along the line of a heavier faucet that would shut off automatically when not in use, the experiment was a success. Our own front yard and the surrounding puddles of water soon dried up. Moreover, we had sufficient pressure to pipe the water at a nominal cost to a second floor room in our demonstration home.
With the cooperation of the council of Stavros, the thirteen other artesian wells in this village were brought under control. The job took about one year to complete, but the transformation of this rural center was amazing. All stagnant water had been eliminated and the indirect effects of this achievement were far-reaching.
With the solution of this long standing problem satisfactorily demonstrated in one village, the Macedonian Department of Health issued a decree requiring all artesian wells in the Verria plain to be brought under control. The order called attention to the fact that the proper method of control could be found in Stavros. In case additional information should be desired, village authorities were advised to consult the Sanitation engineer of Near East Foundation.
Some idea of the magnitude of the contribution that was made in connection with the solution of this problem may be gained from the fact that in one month alone a team of government engineers, armed with police authority and working under the supervision of Koskinides, brought one hundred and twenty-six of these wells under control in six different villages.
We have reviewed a few of the special projects in sanitation that contributed to the reconstruction of our Macedonian area. These represent but a small part of the total activities of Apo-stolis Koskinides. Year by year his increasing contributions were supplemented by those of the numerous other workers in our Macedonian demonstration. Thus his own individual efforts were multiplied many times over by our employees in the home welfare department, members of the future farmer clubs, agricultural leaders, and village teachers. These combined efforts received still greater impetus when, early in 1937, the Greek Ministry of Health assigned sanitation graduates to Koskinides for postgraduate training. These men, who came in groups of three at a time, constituted what might be considered as full-time assistants. They promoted, in addition to projects already listed, the screening of bedrooms, whitewashing homes, removing manure piles, carting away garbage. The report for the month of April, 1937, shows the following interesting figures : homes whitewashed—110; private latrines constructed—69; garbage removed—143 cart loads; manure taken out of villages—1,615 loads; homes screened—27; meetings conducted—28 with an attendance of 850. Add to these figures the month by month achievements and the total becomes truly impressive.
It became increasingly difficult to confine the activities of Koskinides to our demonstration area. As time went on, calls constantly came in from towns and villages outside of our region, but only when the pressure became too great or the appeal too urgent did we depart from our basic policy. To the extent, that we confined our activities to our own villages we considered that we were demonstrating an idea. If we permitted ourselves to be drawn far afield, we became merely another service agency. We shall mention, as typical cases, just a few of the exceptions that were made.
In the town of Kilkis, with a population of about ten thousand, a serious typhoid epidemic broke out. It was traced to certain unsanitary practices and Koskinides was called to map out a plan to clean up the place. This was done, the necessary campaign was inaugurated, and the beneficial results were soon evident. Near the city of Salonica was a tubercular resort known as Asvestohori. This place was seriously affected by malaria, and yet it managed somehow to maintain its popularity in spite of this fact. Because of its key position and its importance as a health center, Koskinides was finally persuaded to organize for the village at their expense a malarial campaign. Incidentally, he included a drive against a few other unhygienic elements in this well-known health resort. Acting upon the advice of Koskinides and in accordance with certain procedures which he outlined, the municipal council of Salonica induced the Rockefeller Foundation to set up an extensive malaria control program in that large and important city.
Long before the end of the ten-year period that is covered in this account Apostolis Koskinides had earned a respected place in an important profession. The loss of a university education as a result of a war, and of post-war years devoted to reestablishing his scattered people, was more than made up. His fame as an authority on rural sanitation had spread throughout the country. Not only had he contributed mightily to a healthier and more abundant life in rural Macedonia, but he had demonstrated, as few others had done, the fine art of "helping the peasant to help himself."
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